Clewiston to get tough on fireworks scofflaws

CLEWISTON — The city has received multiple complaints this year about ground-shaking, extremely loud and explosive fireworks some city residents were setting off during the recent Fourth of July holiday.

Mayor Mali Gardner said to her fellow city commissioners at their July 22 meeting — except for Kristine Petersen, who was on vacation but whose opinion on the topic is well-known to citizens who are aware of her love for dogs — that City Attorney Gary Brandenburg wanted to discuss how they could crack down on the people flouting federal, state and local laws.

“You have provided us what another county … close to us is doing in regards to their fireworks sales and, I guess, dispensing,” the mayor began. “I have had folks contact me… I know there’s been complaints… When the ground shakes, there’s a big concern that it might be more than fireworks.”

The attorney then presented and suggested they adopt “an ordinance that’s in place in Martin County. A couple of items in it are of particular note to me — that it prohibits the manufacture — and, I would add — the remanufacture of fireworks of any kind. I think what’s occurring here in the city is that folks might be splitting open some of the larger fireworks and using the black powder inside to combine them and then putting it inside a homemade cannon, which creates a thunderous roar and actually vibrates the earth. That — just in case anybody knows anybody that’s doing that — is a violation of both federal and state law.”

He suggested the commission adopt Martin’s ordinance, with a few changes, to “put every one on notice of that.”

Ms. Gardner said that over the years she’d heard many complaints. “Folks want to celebrate New Year’s and Fourth of July, but when the ground shakes in your neighborhood, there’s a lot more to it; or if it goes on for days.” She said that earlier this month, “it kept going, it seemed like, on and on and on,” even from public areas such as alleys and streets, and added that some city facilities had been damaged.

Commissioner Melanie McGahee questioned whether that was caused by city personnel, or people adding fireworks to the display.

“We believe that there were some ‘hot’ fireworks,” said Public Works Director Sean Sheffler, confirming that they were placed by someone in the public.

Mr. Brandenburg noted that the Martin County ordinance “would also prohibit firing off any fireworks on any publicly owned land, or parks or right-of-ways. So that would be helpful for that issue.”

He pointed out that there is a Florida legislative moratorium in place that keeps local governments “from in any way preventing the sale or setting off of legal fireworks.”

He also said that for lay members of the public, “you have to perjure yourself to get them, (but) if you do that and set them off on private property, the city cannot enforce the law.” Buyers sign a form saying they will use the forms of fireworks that are illegal under state law — and most of them are — for agricultural purposes only.

Mr. Brandenburg explained that concerns over the legislative moratorium tying local officials’ hands “should be addressed to your representative.”

There was public input, too, from a couple of city residents who talked about what a nuisance the fireworks have become. One man said, “These last couple of years it’s gotten out of hand.”

Others noted that law enforcement has been hamstrung and that perhaps more needed to be done in that vein. Mayor Gardner said, “It’s good that we’re having this discussion tonight,” signaling that it should continue.

Commissioner Melanie McGahee wanted to know, “Why can’t we restrict it by time period,” as far as the lateness of the hour when people are still setting off fireworks, or the number of hours total that use of legal fireworks will be tolerated on those holidays.

Mr. Brandenburg said, “The moratorium prohibits you.”

Community Development Director Travis Reese pointed out “it’s a first degree misdemeanor under Florida Statutes Chapter 791.

“We need to do it,” he added, describing some injuries he’d seen among young people who were careless in setting off the fireworks.

Vice Mayor Michael Atkinson made a motion that they have the attorney draw up an amendment to their ordinance, Commissioner Julio Rodriguez seconded, and it was approved 4-0.

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