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Fireworks Law May Present Challenges For New York Communities

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One key tourist town in our region says a new fireworks law is a dud. The Village of Lake George is pushing Warren County to reconsider participating in New York’s law allowing small fireworks. Meanwhile, other communities across the state may face their own challenges.

Lake George Mayor Bob Blais says nearly two weeks since Independence Day, he’s still getting complaints about bothersome fireworks.

“Certainly in the media we heard about a house burning down attributed to it, we heard about a gentleman who blew his truck up, we read the paper about a man in Maine that blew his head off, and about the New York Giants player that blew some of his fingers off with fireworks. It just didn’t seem after all these years that there was any redeeming value or any purpose for the state of New York, number one, and secondly, for Warren County, to pass such a law.”

The Village of Lake George recently made headlines after local officials pressed the Warren County Board of Supervisors to reconsider its opting-in to the law that allows “sparkling devices” including small fireworks. 

Under the law, it’s up to each county to decide whether to sell the small fireworks. They’ve been sold everywhere from big box stores to temporary tents. They can only be sold in the days leading up to July 4th and New Year’s.

While fireworks are a staple of Lake George during the summer, Mayor Blais says the small fireworks are becoming a nuisance for tourists and village residents alike. Blais said Friday morning he had already received three emails from visitors about the fireworks.

“I don’t think that the revenues coming from the sale of fireworks equals the danger and the exposure of a great family resort to some very, very bad publicity and the possible loss of property damage and life, as well.”

Mark LaVigne, Deputy Director of the New York State Association of Counties, says because the fireworks law is county-by-county, it may present challenges for public safety officials and confusion among those traveling around the state during the summer.

“And so they could be leaving a county that does not allow sparklers, and going into a county that does allow sparklers, or vice-versa. So there is a bit of confusion there, and if your neighboring county allows sparklers and your county does not then you can simply drive over the county border and purchase sparklers and drive back to your home county.”

Under the law, communities within a county that allows the sale of fireworks cannot ban small fireworks. But LaVigne said the law is vague on how communities can regulate their use.

“The law does not give them authority to act one way or another,  that said in counties like Washington and Warren and Saratoga where the county board is made up of town supervisors, those counties automatically have local input into laws such as these.”

Peter Baynes, Executive Director for the New York Conference of Mayors, recently told the Post Star that in his group’s opinion, “neither state law nor regulations would pre-empt a municipality in a county that has opted-in from passing a local law regulating the use of sparkling devices in public places.”

Mayor Blais says he’s hoping for more regulation as Warren County takes a closer look.

“We don’t want people not to enjoy some type of sparklers and things like that in a safe environment, but they haven’t done it so far. And sometimes government has to pass laws like in driving and drinking and hours and limits and things like that, and this just happens to be one of them.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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