POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 2, 2011
A dozen importers of consumer fireworks have abided by a new law that they not store their product on Oahu, but the City Council is considering a change in the ordinance because of a lawsuit filed by a single company. The Council should leave the law as it is and not be cowered by a lawsuit.
The issue comes less than two months after an explosion of fireworks inside a Waikele storage bunker killed five men and injured another, and the filing of a federal lawsuit against the city by American Promotional Events Inc.-Northwest, which does business as TNT Fireworks. A city ordinance banning consumer fireworks and storage of them on Oahu took effect Jan. 1.
Chad Cloutier, director of chain sales at TNT's branch in Seattle, told the state Legislature's Illegal Fireworks Task Force that he expected the Honolulu ban would cause most fireworks-only wholesalers to "leave Oahu and some may leave the state entirely," according to the January report by the task force, of which Cloutier was a voting member.
Neighbor islands don't ban consumer fireworks, so TNT would have to ship them from Oahu to those islands to sell them to consumers, which should be of concern. Transporting fireworks "carries a risk of triggering explosions," the task force noted in its report.
Cloutier reviewed the history of the legal fireworks industry in Hawaii for fellow task force members, so obviously he was aware of the financial risk that comes with the territory caused by the controversy over noise, smoke, brushfires and injuries. He told them in writing that the "future of fireworks in Hawaii is uncertain."
TNT claims in its lawsuit that the ban on storage of consumer fireworks will cause it to lose more than $800,000 worth of fireworks at its warehouse near Honolulu Airport and $750,000 that it invested to improve the warehouse to comply with the city fire code for storing fireworks.
TNT has applied for renewal of its city licenses for importing, wholesaling and storing consumer fireworks, which expired March 31. The company could face legal penalties if the city rejects the renewal and TNT does not promptly remove the fireworks from the warehouse.
Because of the lawsuit, the City Council now is considering revoking the ban on storage of consumer fireworks, despite staunch opposition by the Honolulu police and fire departments.
"We feel fireworks are inherently dangerous in our community," Assistant Fire Chief Manny Neves told the Council's Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee.
Further, the stringent fireworks ban was finally passed after years of indecision and debate. It needs a chance to work — and as a matter of public policy, carving out an exemption for one company weakens the integrity of the law.
Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard was more blunt: "I'm bothered by the fact that I feel like we are being somewhat bullied into passing legislation to avoid a lawsuit."
Gabbard is absolutely right. The Council, which takes up the issue Friday, should not change a law to satisfy a company's questionable lawsuit at the expense of public safety.