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Saturday, December 25, 2010

New rules may result in no fireworks

Fireworks displays — the traditional highlight of many celebrations, both municipal and private — may become a thing of the past under new state regulations that, for safety sake, would put spectators and structures even further away from the point of discharge.
"I actually see a lot of the shows, unfortunately, just not being held," said Laconia Fire Chief Ken Erickson on Thursday.
Three days earlier, the city's Parks and Recreation Commission approved a request by the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association to have fireworks at Endicott Rock Park Beach during Bike Week 2011. But Charlie St. Clair, the rally's executive director and a state-licensed pyrotechnician, said he wasn't sure if he even wanted to do a display. Given the setback changes, which ostensibly would bring New Hampshire's regulations in line with national standards, St. Clair feared that what he could shoot off from Weirs Beach would prove unsatisfactory to Bike Week visitors.
Also in line for potential disappointment are Laconia residents who, for the past two years, have seen the city's Independence Day fireworks shot off from the top of the municipal parking garage downtown. Held for many years at Opechee Park, the fireworks were relocated downtown in 2008 to give the newly rebuilt playing fields at the park time to settle.
Now that the fields have settled in there has been much talk about bringing the fireworks back to Opechee Park. There is, however, the matter of the setbacks.
The minimum distance that fireworks could be discharged from an audience is 200 feet and the distance increases with as the diameter of the shell being discharged increases, with a 12-inch shell requiring a secured diameter of 1,680 feet from the audience.
There also are minimum distances for above-ground electrical and telephone wires, trees or overhead obstructions; highways; and buildings, among others.
"If you look at the regulations, you could probably get away with it at Opechee," said Erickson, "but the people are going to have to be on North Main Street."
St. Clair said it wasn't just the Opechee fireworks that were in doubt under the new setback rules which put "a lot of sites that have been used for decades in questions and a lot of people will have to make changes," including the Town of Ashland, whose display is subject to just about every type of restriction.
As someone who's been shooting off fireworks since 1969, including in Ashland and at Opechee Point, St. Clair called the rule change "an overreach" that was unnecessary.
"If we can't reach some type of settlement, we [Rally and Race] might not be doing anything" during Bike Week 2011, said St. Clair.
While the Bike Week fireworks have been taking place at Weirs Beach since the early 1990s, the Weirs Action Committee has been doing a display since the mid-'50s, said St. Clair, and that group would face a similar decision: Go with a smaller shell but longer show, which would cost more money but might not satisfy observers; or go with a "Plan B."
Erickson thinks the Weirs Beach fireworks could be shot off a barge, but he concedes that doing so would be expensive, involved and probably impractical. The "Class C" fireworks that have been shot off downtown for Independence Day 2008 and 2009 could be shot off from the beach, "but they're not going to be impressive for people up on the boardwalk," the chief conceded.
In lieu of Bike Week fireworks, Erickson suggested that Rally and Race put on a concert on the stern of the M/V Mount Washington, adding that the idea got some traction and would be considered, possibly for 2012.
Fireworks are beautiful, but also dangerous, said Erickson, noting that a two-inch shell "has probably the equivalent of a couple sticks of dynamite in it."
"I truly don't think that, when the regulations were being written, ... they fully grasped the magnitude of the regulation."
Kevin Dunleavy, Laconia's parks and recreation director, said his department is gathering information about the fireworks rule changes and what they might mean to displays in Laconia.