Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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Judge indicates ruling against fireworks importer

By Nelson Daranciang


A federal judge said Monday she is inclined to deny a request by a fireworks import and wholesale company to block enforcement of the city's fireworks ban but will issue a formal ruling later.

The ban, which took effect this year, prohibits importing, storing, selling, offering for sale or keeping consumer fireworks on Oahu except for firecrackers. The ban also does not apply to commercial display fireworks.

If U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi denies the request for a preliminary injunction, it will be another defeat for the company that saw Honolulu City Council members effectively kill legislation earlier this month to allow an exception for storing consumer fireworks on Oahu.

American Promotional Events, Inc. -- Northwest, which does business as TNT Fireworks, said the ban prevents it from selling consumer fireworks on the neighbor islands where they still are legal because all cargo into Hawaii arrive in Honolulu. The company is suing the city because it claims it stands to lose more than $800,000 worth of fireworks, intended for sale on the neighbor islands, in its warehouse near Honolulu Airport.

During a court hearing Monday for the preliminary injunction, APE Sales Director Chad Cloutier said there is nothing preventing the company from shipping all of the fireworks to a neighbor island. But in its lawsuit filed in April, the company said it has invested more than $750,000 in its warehouse near Honolulu Airport and has not been able to find a suitable location for a storage facility on a neighbor island.

Kobayashi said since city officials have said they allow for temporary storage of consumer fireworks on Oahu, "Where's the irreparable harm?"

Honolulu Fire Department Battalion Chief Socrates Bratakos said the department understands that all cargo shipped into the state arrives in Honolulu before it can be distributed to the neighbor islands. And because of shipping schedules, as part of the shipping process, the department allows importers to keep their containers at Honolulu Harbor until interisland carriers can ship the containers to the neighbor islands.

Bratakos said the department also allows importers to transport their cargo to temporary storage facilities to repackage for shipment to the neighbor islands. 

APE lawyer Thomas Berger said since those exceptions are not written into the ordinance, there are no guarantees that they will continue. 

And Kobayashi asked what the legal basis was for the exceptions.

Bratakos said HFD came up with the exceptions in conjunction with the other three county fire departments and said they are unlikely to change.

Councilman Stanley Chang introduced legislation to allow storing consumer fireworks intended for sale on the neighbor islands in response to TNT's federal lawsuit. The council members passed the bill on the first of two required public readings. But when the bill came up for final passage, they voted to recommit it to committee.

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