Fireworks opponents unleash explosive emotions
STORM LAKE — This time the blasting came from the other side.
About 25 residents filled the Storm Lake City Hall meeting room Monday evening, responding to an invitation from city officials to weigh in on a legalized fireworks brouhaha.
A parade of them took turns calling for the council to ban or at least sharply limit shooting. No one appeared in favor of fireworks.
Unlike most of the issue workshops the council periodically sets, this one had city officials doing more listening than speaking. The session at times took on the feel of a rally, as emotional speeches were met with applause and even a few “amens,” and one citizen said that the group would picket any future fireworks tents that are opened.
City officials noted that the legalized sale of class one fireworks was approved by the state legislature earlier this year and cannot be regulated by the city. The city could eliminate to reduce the shooting period, but City Council member Mike Porsch warned that it would be naive to think that if people can buy the fireworks in the community, that there won’t be shooting.
City officials encouraged the members of the crowd to contact their local state legislators if they want to advocate for stopping legal sales. Mayor Jon Kruse said he has heard rumblings that the Legislature may reconsider its decision.
Contacted after the meeting, State Rep. Gary Worthan, of Storm Lake, told the Pilot-Tribune that he has heard nothing on the Legislature revisiting the issue, and said he has heard few public complaints — only a couple of emails and no calls.
“This is why we basically left it up to the cities whether they wanted fireworks to be shot. We didn’t think it was fair to ban entire business communities if they wanted to sell,” Worthan said. “That was the intent all along, that local government bodies could prevent usage but not sales.”
Worthan said he is aware of no discussion on shortening the period of sales of shooting.
“I do understand where these people are coming from. I know there were problems in Storm Lake, and maybe in a lot of communities. I guess we will see how many cities pass ordinances now. No doubt some people went overboard and basically ruined it for everyone.”
According to Monday’s City Hall crowd, overboard is putting it mildly.
One woman said the community did so well without the noise, that it should go back to celebrating without fireworks. A man added that he has lived in seven different cities in the past 20 years, sees Storm Lake Police as the best he has ever encountered, and feels bad that the department should have to spend so much of its time trying to enforce fireworks rules.
Another woman said she has heard the argument that fireworks are no worse than a thunderstorm. “A thunderstorm isn’t constant from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., and a thunderstorm can’t be legislated. Let’s be serious.”
Residents spoke of being kept awake all night, litter from fireworks marring their properties, dogs being terrorized, and fears of fires being started.
“A lot of people came here from larger cities because they don’t want to hear what sounds like gunshots,” one said.
One speaker said that juveniles could be seen on top of house roofs shooting fireworks at each other.
Incoming Star Spangled Spectacular Commodore Maggie Martinez, and retired veterinarian A.A. Stephan expressed concern that firecrackers could spook horses in the Fourth of July parade, putting the crowds along the route in danger. Martinez indicated that near the end of this year’s parade, fireworks were set off in the vicinity of horses.
One woman inspired supportive applause after remarking, “11 p.m. is a little late for the patriots to be setting them off.”
Other speakers noted that the current regulations would allow fireworks to also be set off from Dec. 10 to Jan. 3, saying that having fireworks blasts on Christmas would be inappropriate.
“I’ve never felt so helpless in my own home,” the next speaker said, admitting that at one point she became so upset that she yelled out the windows at the people setting off fireworks. She called the situation an invasion of privacy.
Others questioned the wisdom of expending so much money on fireworks, one reporting that a coworker obsessively bought hundreds of dollars worth of fireworks, saying she couldn’t help herself.
One person remarked that a lot of the fireworks buyers probably have children on free or reduced school lunch programs, but have the money to buy large amounts of fireworks.
Another questioned whether “getting your jollies” is more important than others’ rights.
Still another said that if people like fireworks, they could contribute money toward the official Star Spangled Spectacular.
Damning comments rolled on — one woman saying she had to take a pet dog to Alta to get it to go to the bathroom after it had been scared by fireworks, several expressed concern for veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
Some had called police, but said that those shooting fireworks improperly simply scattered before they could be caught.
Public Safety Director Mark Prosser said that 149 calls for service were fielded over fireworks this season compared to 14 in the July 2016 period, and in other cases, officers hearing fireworks being used illegally initiated searches.
Because the legislation was new, police tried to educate instead of arrest people, and most who were given warnings complied, he said. Ten were charged after repeat incidents, the last on July 13, and more citations could have been written, according to Prosser. Fireworks continue, with a few complaints even on Monday night after the meeting.
Three fires were believed to be caused by fireworks — one house fire, a ditch fire and a grass fire.
Prosser said it is often hard to identify a shooter who has used fireworks outside of the legal period or hours, or fired them illegally from public property. Unless an officer can see the person firing or has the necessary witnesses, there is not enough evidence to charge them, he said.
Police have also fielded calls for scared pets running away, and for welfare checks on a variety of people with mental health issues that were worsened by the noise.
Prosser said his department had recommended a no-fire policy in the city to begin with, and will maintain that stance. However, even a ban now might not have the desired effect.
“The flood gates have been opened, and I’m not sure we can reel it back in,” he said.
If shooting is banned, sales of fireworks will also decline, councilman Porsch suggested.
Kruse thanked the people for attending, and said that the council intends to decide what action it wants to take well before the pre-New Year’s shooting period is scheduled to start. A member of the audience pressed the council on how people will know the process and when a decision will be announced.
City Manager Keri Navratil said that an ordinance change would be required to ban or change the shooting periods, which means the council would need to address the issue in September or October.