Booming business?
City Council may lift ban on sale of fireworks

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The city of Elizabethton could have a louder than usual July Fourth if the City Council amends a city ordinance pertaining to the sale and discharge of fireworks.
   "We've annexed areas in which the sale and discharging of fireworks is legal," said Mayor Sam LaPorte. "We want to make it legal under safe conditions and try to regulate both the discharge of fireworks in the city and the sale of them."
   The sale and discharge of fireworks within city limits is presently illegal. Under a proposed ordinance on the Council's agenda Thursday night, the city would issue a seasonal sales permit for the sale of fireworks within the city.
   It is a proposition that does not sit well with the city's fire chief.
   "I don't think any fire chief in the country would say they want to do it," said Fire Chief Mike Shouse, who's department opposes changing the ordinance. "Officially, we don't want to see it happen for safety reasons."
   All seasonal retailers must obtain a $300 permit from the city while a public fireworks display requires a $100 permit. City permits would only be issued if an applicant also presented a similar fireworks license issued by the state fire marshal's office.
   The ordinance allows the selling and discharge of fireworks from June 20 to July 5, and Dec. 10 through Jan. 2 every year. Fireworks vendors have sold fireworks inside Carter County for decades where sales are legal.
   "It is sold all around us and brought into the city," said LaPorte. The Mayor said it made little sense for citizens to purchase fireworks outside the city limits and bring them back to the city where they were legally prohibited from lighting up a Roman candle.
   "We've been trying to address this for the last year," he said. "You might as well regulate what is going on with it."
   The city currently issues fireworks permits for public displays such as the Covered Bridge Festival. With a little more than three weeks until the Fourth of July -- the veritable Christmas holiday for fireworks merchants -- the timing of the ordinance is a factor to both the city and prospective permit applicants.
   If the Council passed the ordinance opening the door for fireworks dealers, the Mayor said he had no problem calling a special meeting to approve the ordinance on a second reading before July 4.
   "If it turns out that its not a good idea, or a popular idea, we will discuss that and make a decision," said LaPorte.
   Shouse said that in the event Council passed the seasonal sale ordinance, the department wanted rules and regulations in place to ensure public safety as much as possible.
   Seasonal retailers would be limited to selling from permanent structures and tents if the tent met appropriate safety regulations for flame resistance. Fireworks sales from a a bus or semi-trailer that allowed entry by the public would be prohibited.
   Fireworks could not be discharged between 12:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. -- a time frame taking into account the New Year's Day holiday. Retailers selling fireworks must be at least 18 years old and all permit applicants must be at least 21 years old, according to Shouse.
   The ordinance also sets distances from churches, schools and other structures where fireworks could be sold or discharged. "We don't want someone with 5,000 pounds of explosives to set up near Blossman Gas," Shouse said.
   Novelty fireworks such as sparklers or "glow worms" containing less than .8 grains of explosive content could be sold in any business holding a business license.
   Any violation of the ordinance would result in the seizure and destruction of fireworks. Large devices such as M-80, M-100, and notorious "cherry bomb" fireworks are illegal. Shouse pointed out possession or discharge of these explosive devices was a Class E felony under state law.
   "Our main concern is safety, not only to lives but to property," he said. "That's why we don't want to do it."