Kenai may extend firework usage

Whether to expand sale and use of fireworks will be tackled on the Kenai City Council’s Wednesday night agenda.

Kenai allows residents to shoot off fireworks during a 48-hour period between Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, making it the only Kenai Peninsula city to exempt itself from the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s firework ban, albeit for a short time. This time period will become slightly longer if the city council votes at their Wednesday meeting to allow firework use for the entire month of December and allow firework sales in Kenai from the fourth Friday of November to the end of the year.

Though Kenai has had its 48-hour window for legal firework use since 2015, the current code forbids firework sales. Council member Henry Knackstedt proposed changing this, explaining his reasoning at the April 19 meeting in which the council first discussed his ordinance, which originally allowed for the sale of fireworks without expanding the use period.

“It’s come to my attention, and I think to the attention of just about everybody, that there’s hundreds of thousands of dollars of fireworks used around the holiday, and all those fireworks are purchased — probably the closest place is Houston, a nine-and-a-half-hour round trip,” Knackstedt said. “Basically those tax dollars are going there, and not here. So this is just a small way to bring individuals into Kenai and gather those tax dollars, and perhaps while they’re here, they’ll go to our restaurants and visit our stores.”

Of the 24 state-licensed firework retailers listed on the Alaska Department of Public Safety’s website, the closest are in Houston and Valdez. According to a previous Clarion interview with Kenai Fire Marshal Tommy Carver, many residents get their fireworks from wholesalers in Palmer and Wasilla.

Though generally allowing fireworks, the proposed new fireworks code disallows “bottle rockets” and “sky rockets,” which it defines as “a firework consisting of a cylindrical case filled or partially filled with combustible material and fastened to a stick.”

Council member Mike Boyle asked Knackstedt why the ordinance forbids “bottle rockets and those fun things that fly in the sky.”

“They’re fun things that fly in the sky, and they’re fun things that fall also, in people’s yards,” Knackstedt said. “… I would see it as somewhat of a public problem to have these things flying on roofs and yards.”

He said a vendor he’d talked to while putting together the ordinance recommended against allowing bottle rockets.

The present code does not forbid any specific kind of fireworks during the 48-hour period in which they are allowed. Under Knackstedt’s proposal, firework vendors seeking business in Kenai would need a state permit, proof of insurance and to pay a $5,000 fee for an annual city permit.

Locations of potential firework businesses will also be inspected by the Kenai Fire Department, which would be able to close the businesses if the Alaska Division of Forestry declares an extreme fire danger.

Knackstedt’s original proposal only created a sales window for fireworks without expanding the use period. Rather than giving Kenai residents only 48 hours in which to legally shoot off all the fireworks purchased in the month-long sales period, council member James Glendening proposed also expanding the use period to all of December.

Glendening’s ammendment passed with an opposing vote from council member Bob Molloy, who said in an interview after the meeting that he is against allowing more firework activity in Kenai.

Because Glendening’s proposal to expand the fireworks use period substantially changed the ordinance from the fireworks sales ordinance that had had been publicly announced, the council delayed voting on it until the May 3 meeting in order to allow a second period of public comment on the altered ordinance.

If passed, the firework ordinance would be subject to a public review before July 1, 2019, “to determine whether or not the City desires to continue allowing the sale of fireworks within the City, or if any changes to the ordinances are warranted,” according to the ordinance text. City Attorney Scott Bloom said the review would allow future public participation.

“It provides the public some assurance that we’re going to look at this as sort of a pilot program, and if any adjustments need to be made, there’s a set time,” Bloom said. “Nothing’s stopping the council from doing it sooner, but there’s a set time that after two years of having firework sales in the city, the council would be able to hear from the public and see if any change in direction is needed.”

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

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