A firework explodes in the sky above the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center during the finale of this year’s Christmas Comes to Kenai celebration on Nov. 25, 2016 in Kenai, Alaska. Kenai ultimately decided not to extend the use period for fireworks or allow sales within the city. (Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai firework ordinance fizzles

Legal fireworks in Kenai will remain confined to the 48 hours between Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 and the city will stay closed to firework sales.

At their Wednesday meeting, the Kenai City Council voted against a proposal to loosen firework restrictions. Citing firework sales as a potential revenue source, council member Henry Knackstedt introduced an ordinance to allow state-licensed firework vendors to operate in Kenai, creating a $5,000 city permit for firework sales good for the month of December. When Knackstedt’s ordinance was heard at the council’s April 19 meeting, Council member Jim Glendening proposed also widening the 48-hour fireworks window to the entire month of December and beginning the sales period on the fourth Friday of November. The council delayed voting on the ordinance until Wednesday, allowing for public comment on Glendening’s additional measure.

Though council member Bob Molloy was the only one to express opposition to the ordinance April 19, the only council members to vote for it Wednesday were Glendening and Knackstedt. Council member Mike Boyle said public disfavor — including the opposing testimony of Kenai Peninsula Borough Emergency Management Director Scott Walden, Central Emergency Services Chief Roy Browning and Nikiski Fire Chief James Baisden — had influenced his decision.

“Quite honestly, we don’t hear from the public a lot when we get up here and make rules and things, but on this one I’ve heard from the public a lot,” Boyle said. “And I haven’t heard one person support this yet, and honestly that’s all I need for my vote.”

Walden said he was a member of Kenai’s fire department when the Kenai Peninsula Borough banned fireworks in the early 1980s and came to the meeting to give council members “a reminder of why there is a ban in the borough, and I hope you consider this as you make a decision and weigh that against what you might come up with in the value of taxes from firework sales.” Walden said the borough ban followed an incident in which a family was injured when the firework-laden truck they were riding in exploded, and said Kenai would expose its residents to greater personal injury risk by expanding firework use.

“You can’t control personal choice, but you can control what people have access to,” Walden said. “There’s a limited number of things you can do these days to prevent that kind of thing, other than not having it available.”

Glendening maintained his support, saying the ordinance had a “thoughtful presentation” that put several conditions on firework use: it forbade bottle rockets because of their potential to fall into other properties, required city permitting for vendors, allowed the Kenai fire department to shut down vendors in case of fire danger and created a review period for the ordinance to be commented upon and potentially modified by July 2019. Knackstedt also referred to the review period, saying he’d “be voting for (the fireworks ordinance) with the knowledge that we can reverse this pretty quickly down the road if we wanted to, but I’m not so sure it’s something the public doesn’t want as a whole, and that we can’t handle.”

Following the unsuccessful vote, Knackstedt said the result “goes to show the public process does work.”

“I have to say I’m not disappointed at all,” Knackstedt said. “It was just an idea I had to bring revenue into the city. I challenge the rest of the council to come up with something similar we could all agree upon.”

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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