Fireworks changes spark debate

Lots of room for boom in Chugiak


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Fireworks explode over Eagle River during last year’s Eagle River Lions Club Fourth of July fireworks show in Eagle River. The Anchorage Assembly recently changed a municipal law to ban fireworks on New Year’s Eve from within 200 feet of surrounding structures.

STAR FILE PHOTO

Recent tweaks to the municipal law that allows fireworks on New Year’s Eve require that people light ‘em off at least 200 feet from buildings around them.

The good news for Chugiak and parts of Eagle River: larger lots are more plentiful here than in Anchorage proper, so the amended ordinance probably won’t affect local residents as much as people who live in town.

That’s also the bad news.

“I have $6,000 worth of hay in my barns right now,” Kathy Gliva, who runs Southcentral Therapeutic Riding Inc. from her Chugiak property, told the Assembly during a Dec. 13 meeting. “They cannot control where those sparklers that go up in the sky, the rockets, where those are going to land. I really would not want to have a fire in my barn on New Year’s Eve, and I don’t see how you can prevent that when you allow people to shoot these off.” As several Assembly members noted that night, however, there was no proposal on the table to ban fireworks altogether.

Instead, in response to a deluge of complaints from residents about last year’s fireworks, Assembly members suggested some changes.

Assembly chair Debbie Ossiander, from Chugiak, proposed the 200-foot exclusion zone. Ossiander’s amendments also require pyrotechnic partiers clean up their messes within 12 hours. The Assembly originally rejected those changes but they later narrowly passed.

Assembly members Paul Honeman and Dick Traini — who proposed the original ordinance — proposed a ban on fireworks in mobile home parks. The Assembly approved that change, with just two members voting no: Eagle River’s Bill Starr and Anchorage’s Adam Trombley.

Last year, the Assembly passed a new ordinance allowing fireworks on New Year’s Eve, but only from 9:30 p.m. until 1 a.m. and not around certain types of buildings like hospitals or schools.

People loved it or hated it. The skies above town lit up for hours as residents took advantage of the brief window — and then some.

Assembly members heard a deluge of complaints from people in dense neighborhoods. One description popped up regularly: “war zone.” People described terrified pets, young children unable to sleep, and the potential for the booms of artillery to haunt veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

They also made it clear that lots of revelers ignored the time window. “Last year at 7 o’clock there were explosions all over the neighborhood. It ended about 4 a.m.,” said Chugiak resident Georgia Kustura.

“They not only did not adhere to the time limit but they were given basically a blank check to do whatever they want.”

Eagle River last New Year’s was the site of the only serious fireworks-related injury reported to Anchorage police. A 21-year-old airman partying with friends at a residence on Nicoli Way “destroyed” his hand after an incorrectly loaded mortar caused a fireworks launcher to explode, according to media reports.

Chugiak’s Jon Nauman, who operates the horse-drawn carriages in downtown Anchorage, has said he pulled out his drivers early because of the challenges keeping horses steady amid the clamor of the fireworks at night.

The issue of noise wasn’t addressed in any of the Assembly amendments to address public concerns with fireworks. Neither was that time window.

And initially, the Assembly voted down the 200-foot limit.

Traini called it “class warfare” because it favored people who own more property. Plus, are all those Chugiak and Eagle River landowners going to go out with “200-foot rulers to try and measure it?” Enforcing that distance requirement and the 12-hour cleanup also came under Traini’s criticism.

“We don’t have anybody to make sure that happens,” he said. “I just don’t think it makes common sense to pass this ordinance.” Ossiander, who voted against the fireworks law last year, responded that she was simply trying to respond to all the constituents who called with stories about fireworks landing on the roof or exploding outside their bedrooms.

She picked the 200-foot zone “out of the air,” Ossiander said. “It could very well be 10, it could be 50, but I think it should be something.” Traini promptly made a motion to change the no-fireworks zone to 10 feet. It died for lack of a second.

The Assembly defeated Ossiander’s amendments by a 6-5 vote.

But Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson later in the meeting changed her vote and the 200-foot requirement and cleanup window passed.

Several Anchorage residents testified to the Assembly that the ordinance and the proposed amendments were unenforceable, and that police had better things to do than chase fireworks offenders down.

The current ordinance “sunsets” on Dec 31 2012 without Assembly action. Action is pretty certain, though. Traini promised to start work on modifications to the ordinance as early as April.

 

Zaz Hollander is a freelance writer from Palmer. Reach her at editor@alaskastar.com

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