, Newburyport, MA

January 9, 2013

Effort emerges to reverse fireworks ban

By Angeljean Chiaramida

---- — SEABROOK — Just out in its first draft, this year’s Town Warrant carries a familiar citizen’s petition that would reverse the current ban of fireworks in the Seabrook Beach Village District, allowing displays before 10:30 p.m. with permission of the property owner.

The petition, which was submitted for the second time by fireworks enthusiast Tom O’Hara and other residents, brings back an explosive issue that flared up on Dec. 7, 2011, when selectmen voted unanimously to ban fireworks displays on private property at the beach. They acted after dozens of beach precinct residents requested them to do so, with the endorsement of then fire Chief Jeff Brown, based on fire safety issues.

Because it is town property, fireworks on Seabrook Beach itself have always been banned; however, for decades, private property owners — or those to whom they rent — have been able to shoot off fireworks on their own property. The practice has been a cause of annoyance for many, as noise from the activity has gone on until the wee hours of the morning, especially on the Fourth of July holiday.

The beach enclave, where homes are built within 8 feet of the property line, is considered by some to be too congested for fireworks rockets to be used safely. The rockets can release fiery embers, they said, coming down on roofs and in the dune grass.

Now retired, Brown backed the fireworks ban, saying the town’s been lucky so far that no homes have burned down, but added there have been some close calls.

Dune grass fires have started from fireworks going astray, he said, and with homes so close by, it presents a danger.

But last year, O’Hara and others believed the matter needed to go before all the town voters and not be left solely in the hands of selectmen. Believing the safety issues were being overblown, O’Hara said the fireworks ban, like the ban of bonfires at the beach, were traditional parts of summer that authorities have deprived many in town who enjoy them.

O’Hara, a beach property owner, filed his first citizen’s petition to reverse the ban for last year’s warrant. But his initial effort was foiled when voters at last year’s deliberative Town Meeting session, using word changes, nullified the petition by almost a two to one margin.

Trying again this year, O’Hara’s petition has been certified, meaning his has at least the 25 signatures of registered Seabrook voters to put the petition on this year’s Town Meeting Warrant.

At the Community Center, on Tuesday, Feb. 5, voters can debate this issue once more at the deliberative session of Town Meeting, along with the nearly 40 other questions on the warrant. Voters can cast their vote at the polls for all the issues on the warrant on Tuesday, March 12.