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Archive for Tuesday, July 9, 2002

Sizzle or fizzle?

July 9, 2002

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Momentum is building toward increased fireworks restrictions for Lawrence.

Following the recent Fourth of July celebration, many local residents have had their fill of fireworks.

Four of five Lawrence city commissioners also have indicated they are leaning toward placing more restrictions on the use of fireworks in the city.

But placing additional restrictions on fireworks use when the current laws appear to be largely unenforceable may prove to be a difficult, if not impossible, task. Commissioners and city officials may need to get creative if they want to preserve some part of the free-wheeling fireworks tradition in Lawrence.

At least in some parts of Lawrence, the display of nighttime fireworks was mind-boggling. Thousands of dollars of rockets, shells and fountains were being discharged by private citizens in many neighborhoods. Some of those citizens were responsible in how and where they shot off their fireworks; others were not.

There were a few injuries that landed people in the Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room and a few small fires around town. Timely rains in some parts of town probably prevented more fire calls.

The day after, many areas were littered with fireworks trash. In many cases, the location of that trash indicated people had been discharging fireworks from illegal locations: in the street or on public property, such as parks or school parking lots.

Some of these infractions seem like good targets for increased enforcement. Law enforcement officers could patrol public areas like schools and parks that seem to be popular locations for illegal fireworks displays. As they patrol, they must be prepared to ticket violators who are shooting fireworks in those locations as well as in city streets. They wouldn't catch every violator, but a few tickets might go a long way toward curbing such behavior.

Additional enforcement also might help minimize another common complaint about fireworks: the hours during which they are being fired. Many people who enjoy watching some evening fireworks are nonetheless miffed when the blasting continues well past the city's deadlines of 10 p.m. on July 2 and 3 and 11 p.m. on July 4. Again, police patrols wouldn't catch every late-night violator, but they might make a meaningful dent.

If enforcement isn't seen as the answer, perhaps the city could investigate some creative solutions. Would there be a way to allow people to set off fireworks but only at designated central locations where the activity could be better monitored?

As much as many people love to shoot and watch neighborhood fireworks on the Fourth of July, it could be that enforcing city ordinances that maintain fireworks safety and decorum in the city just aren't practical. Unfortunately, experience has shown in the last several years that depending on local residents to monitor their own fireworks behavior often isn't the answer. It can be argued that people should be free to take whatever risks they want with fireworks, but in too many cases, those risks along with noise and trash are being shared with unwilling neighbors, who also have rights.

Maybe stricter enforcement (and the additional cost to the city that would entail) is the answer; perhaps other creative solutions can be found. If not, city commissioners may find ample support for a decision to pull the plug on private fireworks displays in Lawrence.

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