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Parkersburg fireworks ordinance fizzles out

Parkersburg resident Jeff Fox, a former City Councilman, speaks in opposition to a proposed fireworks ordinance during the July 20 council meeting. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — While many focused on the debate over a proposed moratorium on new residential substance abuse treatment facilities at last week’s Parkersburg City Council meeting, the latest attempt to revamp the law on use of fireworks in the city fizzled out.

An ordinance lifting Parkersburg’s prohibition on pyrotechnics for two nights a year passed 5-3, with one council member absent at the June 22 meeting. With two absent July 13, nobody made a motion on the ordinance, so no action was taken.

“We came to the collective (decision) to have the Police Department enforce the current law, which is no fireworks,” Councilman Austin Richards said recently.

Although the discharge of fireworks within city limits is prohibited, state law makes it legal to sell them. Anyone who spent a couple evenings in Parkersburg in late June and early July heard evidence that the ordinance against launching them isn’t followed.

Parkersburg Police Chief Joe Martin has said the department doesn’t have the manpower to respond to every fireworks complaint and generally won’t unless it involves property damage or an injury. He backed the ordinance to give people some periods they could legally set off fireworks in hopes that it would decrease incidents at other times.

Councilwoman Sharon Kuhl initially supported the measure, but said recently she changed her mind in part because of the lack of enforcement.

“I wasn’t going to make a motion,” she said of the July 13 meeting. “It was just a waste of time.”

Kuhl said she was told by the Wood County 911 Center that 28 fireworks complaints were received in the city from July 2-5. Fourteen did not have officers dispatched, she said, and she did not have information on whether citations were written on the others.

Martin said there were also numerous complaints called in directly to the department and he was not aware of any citations being issued. If an officer doesn’t witness the act, it’s difficult to determine who set it off, he said.

Part of the problem is people still don’t realize that being able to buy fireworks does not mean setting them off is legal, Martin said. When it’s explained to people, they often stop using them, he said.

“I understand the dilemma that the council is in. It’s obvious that there’s a problem,” Martin said. “There’s no way to enforce our way out of that.”

Kuhl said a call about some alleged activity on the Fourth of July, which she could not confirm, influenced her change of mind on the ordinance. She also expressed skepticism about a provision requiring people to obtain permits to use fireworks on the allowed days.

“People were not going to come down and get permits,” Kuhl said.

Some residents spoke against the ordinance during the July 20 public forum as well.

“They can’t enforce the fireworks 365 days a year; how do you expect them to enforce it 364 days a year?” Julia Monroe said.

Parkersburg resident Doug Kreinik said the use of fireworks is disturbing to people with post-traumatic stress disorder, dogs and those who like to sleep with the windows open. He drew laughter when he suggested the practice should only be legal around the homes of council members who voted for it.

Kuhl said she would like to see changes at the state level to only allow the sale of so-called “silent” fireworks, which do not produce the same level of noise.

“If this passes state Legislature, there’s no need to bring up fireworks (in council) ever again,” she said.

Delegate Roger Conley, R-Wood, said he needs to do more research on the matter but is willing to look into it.

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