BUCKHANNON — The City of Buckhannon has advanced an ordinance that could limit the days and times residents will be allowed to light up the sky with fireworks — and that law will likely take effect as early as Independence Day of this year.
At its regular meeting Tuesday, city council unanimously approved on first reading Ordinance No. 418, which regulates “consumer fireworks” and “sparkling devices” within Buckhannon. City attorney Tom O’Neill said the ordinance primarily restricts the use of “consumer fireworks,” or “the aerial, the shells, the bottle rockets, the roman candles and the things that create noise that brought us to this point.”
The ordinance does not place any limitations on the usage of sparklers, other than stating that they may not be ignited or “thrown” from a motor vehicle, boat or building,” O’Neill added.
If passed on second reading June 1, the only dates and times residents will be allowed to set off fireworks will be between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. on July 4; between 11 a.m. on Dec. 31 and 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 1; and on the Saturdays preceding and following Independence Day if the holiday doesn’t happen to already fall on a Saturday.
However, the ordinance gives the city the flexibility to permit organizations to set off fireworks on other occasions, so long as the time and location is approved via the passage of a special resolution.
It also provides another caveat, O’Neill said.
“[They will also be permitted] in the event of a spontaneous public celebration where prior approval of the council is not reasonably possible by proclamation,” the city attorney said. “The above times I listed are the only times in which the use of consumer fireworks, which are the good stuff, will be permitted within the municipal boundaries.”
O’Neill went on to note that the ordinance does not ban the sale of fireworks in city limits.
Council members had previously discussed the need for the ordinance after multiple residents — including former fire department chief Mitch Tacy — complained to council that their neighbors were setting off fireworks during the weeks prior to and after the Fourth of July, often in the wee hours of the morning. Council directed O’Neill to draft the ordinance in order to curb the use of fireworks, which can negatively impact the health of pets and people with post-traumatic stress disorder in particular, according to the ordinance.
Buckhannon mayor David McCauley stressed that the private use of fireworks won’t be permitted on holidays other than the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve.
“This ordinance would allow fireworks to be used during the preceding Saturday (July 1) and the following Saturday (July 8) and the actual Fourth of July,” McCauley observed. “And the only other day that it would be permitted would be on New Year’s Eve … there’s no Labor Day, Memorial Day, the pilgrims have arrived at Plymouth Rock, French Creek Freddie celebration — none of that stuff would justify fireworks.”
O’Neill said the ordinance does not affect city-sponsored activities during which fireworks will be set off, including Buckhannon’s Fourth of July celebration, planned for Friday, June 30 in conjunction with Festival Fridays.
McCauley characterized the ordinance as a good start, saying it will counter the effect of state legislation passed in 2016 — specifically House Bill 2852 — which legalized certain types of fireworks that had previously been illegal.
“I absolutely guarantee you this is not a perfect ordinance, but it is a start,” the mayor said. “It’s going to curtail a lot of the shenanigans that we’ve put up with for the past two years after the Legislature in its infinite and infamous wisdom [passed House Bill 2852], that can of worms that they decided to open up for us.”
Councilman David Thomas said he would prefer that council outlaw private use of fireworks entirely, saying three days of fireworks around the Fourth of July is “too much.”
“I would prefer the Elkins ordinance, which says you can’t even do it, but I think this is a start,” Thomas said. “I think there’s a lot of potential damage with fireworks and personal injuries and so forth.”
Councilman CJ Rylands took issue with the fact that the ordinance permits the sale of fireworks but not their discharge.
“To me, it seems a little discordant that we’re authorizing multiple sale locations of the things that we are now prohibiting the use of,” Rylands remarked.
Nonetheless, after councilwoman Mary Albaugh made a motion to pass the ordinance on first reading and Thomas seconded it, it passed unanimously.
In addition to circumscribing the dates and times private fireworks may be used, the ordinance also states that anyone under 18 must be supervised by an adult or guardian while using fireworks; that no one younger than age 12 may set off consumer fireworks; and that no one who has consumed alcohol or drugs may “use, ignite or discharge fireworks.”
Anyone who is found guilty of violating the ordinance will be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and fined between $100 and $200 for the first offense; between $200 and $350 for the second offense; and between $350 and $500 for any third or subsequent offense. Second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for June 1, and if it passes, the law will go into effect Saturday, July 1.