Difference of opinion

FD Council splits on how to handle fireworks

-Messenger file photo by Hans Madsen
Heather Hutchinson, at left, along with Matt Knowles, both of Fort Dodge, look over the selection of fireworks available at the Iowa Fireworks Company on First Avenue South east of South 25th Street, in this June 2017 file photo. Legal fireworks went on sale in the summer of 2017.

Members of the Fort Dodge City Council divided Monday on how to proceed with a possible local ordinance against fireworks.

The council discussed fireworks during an an hourlong workshop session prior to the start of its regular meeting.

No action was taken on the fireworks Monday, but the topic is on the agenda for tonight’s Plan and Zoning Commission meeting.

Council members Lydia Schuur and Dean Hill were absent from the discussion.

One of the discussion topics were three proposals on how to deal with the large number of complaints about fireworks that the city received last summer, and what, if any, restrictions should be put in place for the future.

Carissa Harvey, the city’s strategic planner, presented three proposed options for zoning changes. She recommended the city go with an option that would limit sales of fireworks to light industrial and heavy industrial districts within the city, but would not allow sales on Fifth Avenue South.

That option, called Option C, would also ban the use of fireworks tents.

Councilman Terry Moehnke said he doesn’t believe restricting the location of the tents will solve anything.

He suggested that the city look at altering the fire code.

“To me, we can address this by simply changing the fire code, which allows 20-foot distance right now between the tent and the property adjacent to it,” Moehnke said. He suggested the setback be moved to 100 feet.

Councilman Kim Alstott said his main issue is selling fireworks too close to residential areas, something that happened last year.

“I don’t like the idea of selling fireworks behind residential houses,” he said. “I think that’s really dangerous.”

Mayor Matt Bemrich suggested that the council not take any action for the time being, and should instead wait and see what happens with proposed legislation by state Sen. Jake Chapman, of Adel.

Chapman is proposing a bill that would limit the power cities and counties have in regulating fireworks.

Bemrich said that if the city changes anything now, it might be undone depending on what happens at the state level.

Councilman Neven Conrad agreed.

“I’ve given up anticipating what the state Legislature is going to do,” Conrad said. “I would say we just kind of hold off on this at the moment and then we’ll see what they do with it.”

His comments were also supported by Councilman Dave Flattery.

“My thoughts are, I’m hoping that if it does play out in the state House, it would be some type of ban of the use of fireworks within city limits,” he said. “I’m hoping that would be the case.”

But Councilman Jeff Halter disagreed with delaying any action. He supports Harvey’s recommendation.

Halter said he’s done research on fireworks websites, and they recommend being anywhere from 100 to 300 feet away from other buildings.

He also took issue with fireworks being sold out of tents.

“If they buy a building, they have to invest tons of money in getting fire suppression and all of those things to protect a building,” he said. “But if we put it in a tent, they’re not required by any means to do anything to protect the property around them. I just find that to be ironic.”

Halter said he puts safety above everything else.

“I don’t think it’s cool having a tent with that many major fireworks combined within them that close to a major intersection,” he said.

Bemrich said the City Council could end up discussing fireworks for years, ultimately deciding something different every time.

“I’m still saying I think, as time goes on and people will change their habits and the newness of this all somewhat wears off,” he said, “people kind of fall in line a bit.”

“I’m of the opinion of just leave it alone for now,” Bemrich added. “And come back to it when you see the actual Legislature change.”