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Council passes fireworks limits

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 12:37 a.m. HST, Sep 24, 2010


This story has been corrected.

Expect New Year's Eves on Oahu to be quieter and less smoky after the 2011 celebration.

A bill the City Council approved yesterday will continue to allow firecrackers by permit, but will bar sale, purchase or use of all other consumer fireworks, including sparklers, fountains and so-called "paperless" firecrackers.

Acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell previously indicated that he would support stricter fireworks legislation. Caldwell has 10 business days to approve, veto or allow it to become law without his signature.

The 7-2 vote after came after more than four hours of testimony and debate yesterday, and months of deliberating before that. Supporters of stricter fireworks legislation initially sought a ban on firecrackers, too, but backed off that idea after several Chinese community leaders said firecrackers are a cultural and religious custom for many of them.

Under the bill, Oahu residents would be able to get a permit to use firecrackers between 9 p.m. New Year's Eve and 1 a.m. New Year's Day, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Chinese New Year's Day and from 1 to 9 p.m. on the Fourth of July.

A permit could also be obtained for "cultural use" between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. on the day requested. The bill says cultural uses include, but are not limited to, "births, deaths, weddings, grand openings, blessings, anniversaries."

FIREWORKS CRACKDOWN

After this New Year's holiday, all consumer fireworks except a small number of firecrackers could be prohibited on Oahu:

WHAT WOULD BE BANNED

Everything from sparklers and fountains to "spinning wheels" and "paperless" firecrackers.

WHAT WOULD BE ALLOWED

Purchases of up to 5,000 firecrackers for every $25 permit, but only for New Year's Eve, Chinese New Year's Day, the Fourth of July and special occasions.

Residents testified both for and against the bill.

Mililani resident Ann Freed said there is rampant abuse of legal consumer fireworks.

"Much of the fireworks uses I have seen are the result of alcohol-infused recklessness having nothing to do with culture," Freed said.

Those with respiratory issues and pets have a difficult time on fireworks-related holidays, and children as well as others playing with fireworks have been injured in the process.

"People are afraid to leave their homes on New Year's Eve because the smoke is so thick you can't see the streets," Freed said.

But Hawaii Kai resident Natalie Iwasa said her family enjoys setting off fireworks each New Year's and Independence Day.

"I find it ironic that our Council now is considering removing our freedom to use fireworks, which we use on the Fourth of July to celebrate our freedoms."

Larry Lomaz, president of Pacific Fireworks in Hawaii and the owner of fireworks companies on the mainland, said his company and others would not be able to bring just firecrackers into the islands.

Those seeking firecrackers and other fireworks would turn to the black market, or do without, he said.

"You're going to turn thousands of law-abiding citizens here in Hawaii to that illegal market that's already selling product at 50 to 100 times mark up," Lomaz said. "Total bans don't work."

He suggested raising the $100 permit on display fireworks vendors and using that money to pay for more inspectors to enforce existing laws.

While some critics have questioned the value in eliminating all "novelty" fireworks but leaving firecrackers, city fire officials pointed out that firecrackers make up only a small portion of all fireworks sold during the holidays.

Assistant Fire Chief Manny Neves said it's the duty of firefighters to protect life, property and the environment.

"We feel fireworks is bad on all counts," he said.

"It's not just illegal aerials," Neves said. "All fireworks start fires."

While the department would prefer a total ban, "we feel that limiting the use to firecrackers only ... is a great step in the right direction," he said.

Four Council members -- Ikaika Anderson, Romy Cachola, Ann Kobayashi and Rod Tam -- asked that the Council defer a vote because a statewide fireworks enforcement task force is required to submit its recommendations to the state Legislature in January.

"There needs to be more dialogue, and the proper place is the state Legislature," Tam said. State lawmakers "punted upon the Council," he said.

But that idea was quashed by the other five members -- Todd Apo, Donovan Dela Cruz, Lee Donohue, Nestor Garcia and Gary Okino.

"It's an important decision; we shouldn't shirk our responsibilities," Dela Cruz said.

Cachola attempted to amend the bill to take effect next July 1 so that the Legislature would have enough time to enact legislation based on the recommendations of the task force, but that also failed to muster enough votes.

Fire Battalion Chief Socrates Bratakos, who sits on the task force, said the group is looking at long-term fireworks controls, such as shipping and importation enforcement.

The Council bill addresses what's now legal while the task force is looking at better enforcement of illegal fireworks activities, he said.

"Consumer fireworks cause a lot of problems," Bratakos said. "They're injuring children, they're causing property damage, they're degrading our environment and they're a plain nuisance to a lot of folks."

While Anderson, Cachola, Kobayashi and Tam all raised strong reservations about the bill, only Cachola and Tam voted against it. Anderson and Kobayashi did not answer during a voice vote. Under Council procedure known as "kanalua," silence counts as a "yes" vote.

Anderson attempted to pass a version of the bill that would have allowed fountain-type fireworks without permits.

But that proposal also failed. Okino said allowing fountains would pave the way for all types of novelty fireworks to be allowed.

Council members said they made the effective date of the bill Jan. 2 to allow vendors to sell off their stock for the New Year's holiday.

The state law allowing adults statewide to get a $25 permit to buy up to 5,000 firecrackers was passed in 2000. There is no limit on the number of permits a person may get and the fire department has not kept a tally of how many people buy more than one.

This past New Year's, the fire department issued 8,055 firecracker permits, about 1,100 more than the previous year.

The 2010 Legislature approved a bill that set up the statewide fireworks enforcement task force and gave counties the option to enact stricter fireworks legislation.

CORRECTION

Ann Freed, who testified in favor of stricter fireworks legislation before the City Council Wednesday, lives in Mililani. A Page A1 article said she was a Makakilo resident.






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