November 8, 2012

Augusta City Council sends sex offender residency ordinance to city staff for further study

Fire, police chiefs update council on fireworks incidents, considers one-year review of ban ordinance

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- The Augusta City Council Thursday night agreed to have city staff study a possible residency restriction for sex offenders and then bring it back to the council for debate.

An ordinance could keep those on the sex offender registry from living within a certain distance from a school or other area frequented by children.

Augusta has 137 registered sex offenders, according to the registry. Police Chief Robert Gregoire said there have only been a few complaints about where sex offenders live, and most of them have come through city councilors.

In other business Thursday, councilors got an update on fireworks incidents over the past year with an eye to eventually updating the city ordinance banning sale and use of fireworks.

Augusta has had about 150 fireworks complaints since they became legal in the state Jan. 1, despite the fact the city stll has a ban.

Complaints have included one major brush fire and an  incident that led to the evacuation of an apartment complex.

When the city passed its ban on fireworks, officials pledged to rethink that decision once they had data on fireworks use and safety statistics, Mayor Bill Stokes said Thursday.

He said the city likely needs more than one summer’s worth of numbers before considering revisiting its ban.

Augusta adopted its ban about a year ago so it would be in place before January, when the state ban on consumer use and sale of fireworks was lifted.

Fire Chief Roger Audette said Thursday night that so far this year the city has had 150 reported incidents involving fireworks, but he added that number doesn’t provide insight into the impact of the state ban being lifted because before this year the city didn’t track fireworks complaints. Such complaints, he said, were categorized as disorderly conduct.

Councilor Mike Byron, Ward 1, asked if the real concern about fireworks use in the city is that it could draw police and firefighters to a fireworks-related call and thus make them unavailable to respond to other calls which might occur at the same time.

Both Gregoire and Audette said that is a major concern.

Audette said two incidents this year required a significant response by firefighters.

In one incident, a young boy set off some fireworks when his parents weren’t home and it turned into a half-acre woods fire.

“The city had to send quite a few resources to that fire,” Audette said. “During that time, there were limited resources here (in the city) in case other calls came in.”

In another incident, at a 24-unit apartment complex on Capitol Street, someone taped fireworks to a door of an apartment and set them off. It filled the hallway with smoke, but didn’t start a fire in the building.

Audette said the smoke-filled hallway led firefighters to believe the building was on fire, and it was evacuated.

Audette said there were 19 fireworks accidents that resulted in injury reported statewide.

Gregoire said he didn’t find 150 complaints to be an alarming figure. He noted that 132 of them occurred before July 31, and the number of incidents tailed off later in the year. He said education efforts by police and firefighter have raised awareness that fireworks are not allowed in the city, and he expects the number of fireworks incidents to continue to decline.

He said the child who accidentally set the woods fire with fireworks was not charged. He said the officer involved determined educating the child was a better choice.

Gregoire said the department’s goal is to educate residents in hopes of getting voluntary compliance with the city’s fireworks ban.

Keith Edwards -- 621-5647
kedwards@centralmaine.com

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