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Muskego takes another crack at fireworks rules

Proposal works toward compromise on long-held viewpoints

Feb. 5, 2014

Muskego — As expected, fireworks has again risen as a topic of conversation inside City Hall this month and could land in council chambers as early as next week.

Muskego officials are considering reducing the number of days residents can shoot off fireworks and allowing the displays only in the evenings.

The anticipated debate is not a surprise. In recent weeks, the topic has been addressed publicly by speakers, mostly in the public comments segment of council meetings, though no formal action was taken to change the city's rules to this point.

The earliest the council could consider the latest proposals would be Tuesday.

Muskego is the only community in the metropolitan area that allows residents with permits to have fireworks displays at the Fourth of July, and there is a constant tug of war between those who don't like the noise, the debris and the potential for damage from fireworks and those who love the displays and plan parties for family and friends around them.

Shorter time frame?

While some have advocated a ban on local fireworks, the proposals that the city is poised to consider aim more at a reduction, not elimination, of fireworks locally.

Currently, the permits allow fireworks during a seven-day period, from July 1 to 7.

That could be reduced to four or five days with the permitted time including Independence Day and the closest weekend. For example, if the Fourth of July were on a Thursday, the permits for that year might allow fireworks from Thursday through Sunday.

The Common Council last week directed the city staff to provide a tentative schedule of permitted days for the next 10 years.

Officials will also also consider a proposal to reduce permitted hours to 5 to 11 p.m. instead of the current 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Somewhere in the middle

It's an attempt at compromise to protect both sides, Alderman Robert Wolfe, noting that the fireworks discussion had included banning fireworks altogether or limiting them to just July 3 and 4.

"Fireworks are a tradition out here and I'd like to see it protected," Wolfe said.

He said the proposals would be consistent with common practices in Muskego, where parties are generally held the weekend before or after" the Fourth of July when it falls on a weekday.

Allowing fireworks on fewer weeknights would be helpful, Alderman Kevin Kubacki said, based on the people who have contacted him saying they go to bed at 9 or 9:30 p.m. because they start work early in the morning.

Reacting to the prospect of fewer permitted days and limiting displays to evening hours, former alderman David Taube, a strong supporter of fireworks said, "I guess I could live with that."

But Taube added he would miss the flexibility the seven days provide. Likewise, for those who like colorful nighttime displays, the existing rule restricting fireworks after 11 p.m. is tough enough, given the fact that it doesn't get dark until after 9:30 p.m. in early July.

"That's getting somewhat skinny on time," he said, acknowledging thay others favor fireworks, especially noise-makers, that can be launched when it's still light out.

As far as Tom Nowicki is concerned, 11 p.m. is "way too late." Nowicki, a staunch fireworks critic, favors a 10 p.m. cutoff. He also favors a two-day window, instead of seven, though also acknowledging that might be too restrictive for weekend parties.

Neighborly approach?

Even if the council approves fewer days and shorter hours, Alderman Dan Soltysiak said complaints of debris falling on nearby properties and the potential for damage from hot embers remain unaddressed.

"It's kicking the can down the road," Soltysiak said, suggesting the council only be forced to address more fireworks complaints in the future.

He suggested a way to get neighbors to work together to solve those problems. It would involve the city requiring all those living within a certain perimeter of a display to apply for the fireworks permit together.

"That way (those using fireworks) would have to be good neighbors," Soltysiak said.

But that might leave the city open to legal liability, Mayor Kathy Chiaverotti said.

"Once the city would determine a safe zone, I truly believe we would be assuming liability," she said, although she acknowledged a city attorney's opinion would help clarify that point.

Wolfe also had reservations in saying, "Not all neighbors get along 100 percent. This could be a way to get back at a neighbor."

Kubackiwas likewise dubious, noting debris could occasionally fly beyond the perimeter, anyway.

Taube said that would make it so complicated to get a permit that people would shoot off fireworks illegally without one, as many already do.

"It would be creating a lot of people who aren't going to monkey around with a permit," he said.

NEXT STEP

WHAT: earliest Muskego Common Council consideration of reducing the number of days and hours fireworks are permitted

WHEN: 7 p.m. Feb. 11

WHERE: Muskego City Hall, S8200 Racine Ave.

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