Gilford selectmen will again address fireworks issue, tonight

GILFORD — For the second time in as many years, tonight selectmen will be discussing whether or not the town should amend its current ordinance that bans fireworks.

Newest Selectmen Richard "Rags" Grenier said yesterday that supports allowing fireworks in Gilford but wants their use tied to a noise ordinance and not be absoutely prohibited.

"I'm not a big fan of government control," Grenier said yesterday.

Fireworks are banned in Gilford and have been since 1988. Last year, selectmen voted two-to-one to continue the ban and to increase the penalties for violations to $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second offense and $500 for the third offense.

Selectmen Gus Benevides voted against the ban. He said he wasn't comfortable banning something in Gilford that was sold legally in the state of New Hampshire.

He said he feared legal challenges from someone who is penalized and doesn't want what he considers an already over-burdened police department to use its valuable resources on fireworks when the town faces more serious issues like drug abuse, drunk driving, domestic abuse, and property crime.

Benevides also said there was no way for the police to enforce the rules for the island residents which, in a sense, creates a two-tiered society. He also said that many summer residents wouldn't know about the ban.

Selectman John O'Brien is a strong supporter of banning fireworks. He said he considers it to be a public safety issue and that the role of government is to enact ordinances that keep the public safe.

O'Brien said people who are using fireworks are often consuming alcohol and "common sense and beer don't go together." He said fireworks are a distraction for people who don't use them and can present a fire hazard when used improperly.

Retired Selectmen Kevin Hayes said the phone calls he received concerning fireworks were from residents who felt they were dangerous. He supported O'Brien and the ban stayed in effect, along with the harsher penalties.

Now that Hayes is retired, Grenier becomes the swing vote in what was last year a clearly polarized board when it came to fireworks.

Fire Chief Stephen Carrier said as a public safety official he could not support lifting the ban on fireworks.

"They're dangerous and can often get into the hands of people who shouldn't have them," he said.

Fireworks are also banned in Alton but are allowed with some restrictions in Belmont, Laconia and Meredith. Those restrictions are usually consistent with noise regulations except in Meredith where those using fireworks are expected to get a permit.