November 1, 2012

Augusta City Council considers fireworks warehouse request

Large pyrotechnics storage facility would be 'potentially a risk to the residents of the city,' city manager says

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- An inquiry about opening a fireworks warehouse in the city has the City Council considering a moratorium on such businesses until officials can figure out if they are safe.

Steve Marson

Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

It's against the city ordinance to use or sell fireworks in the city, but it's OK to possess them, and that would include someone warehousing them to sell elsewhere, said City Manager William Bridgeo.

But Bridgeo said storing a large amount of explosives is "potentially a risk to the residents of the city, and something the City Council and Planning Board ought to have the opportunity to study before it occurs."

The council tonight will consider a six-month moratorium to give them and the Planning Board time to figure out if such warehouses should be allowed.

Bridgeo said if councilors approve a moratorium tonight it would take effect immediately, but doesn't necessarily mean the ultimate decision by the city would be to ban such warehouses.

The meeting is at 7 p.m. in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Steve Marson, owner of Central Maine Pyrotechnics and Pyro City fireworks retail stores in Manchester, Edgecomb, Winslow, Ellsworth and Presque Isle, said Wednesday he recently talked to a broker about finding a warehouse in central Maine where he can store the consumer fireworks sold in his retail stores. He said there is vacant warehouse space in Augusta, both for sale and for lease, that appears to meet his space requirements.

Bridgeo said a broker recently asked the city's planning office about regulations for such a warehouse.

"I don't know what everybody is afraid about with consumer fireworks," said Marson, who also puts on commercial fireworks shows and said fireworks are "absolutely" stored safely.

He said his business makes economic sense for the city.

"There are vacant properties in Augusta where the owners would like to have a business in them. Some of them fit what I'm looking for."

Marson said he's looking for about 20,000 square feet of storage space. He's using trailers in Farmingdale for storage.

"I just got back from a two-week buying trip in China," said Marson. "I've got 20 containers of fireworks coming in April. I'd rather put them in a building than temporary trailers."

Marson said he employs five people at his Farmingdale site and he anticipates the same for a warehouse, but that new jobs would be created as the business grows.

Bridgeo said allowing such a warehouse is "a complex, serious matter and it should be addressed thoughtfully."

"We don't know how much they're talking about storing. We don't know if there could be an explosion. We don't know if there would be challenges for the fire department. We don't know about any of that."

The city's ordinance banning the use and sale of consumer fireworks initially also called for banning possession. However, the city removed that language after some councilors said they were concerned it would have an impact on someone who drove through Augusta with fireworks in the car, or someone keeping them in their home in Augusta, but intended for use somewhere that allows them.

The state allows the use and sale of consumer fireworks, but many communities have enacted rules that regulate or ban them.

"That's the irony of the situation, we're one of the communities in Maine that went through a rigorous process and decided to ban the sale or use of fireworks in the city limits of Augusta," Bridgeo said. "I don't think anybody anticipated someone would come forward wanting to stockpile fireworks to sell in those communities that chose to allow them here."

Keith Edwards -- 621-5647

kedwards@centralmaine.com

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