COMSTOCK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — As everyone starts to celebrate America’s independence, a statewide ordinance currently allows Michiganders to set off fireworks during certain times now through the Fourth of July.
But with the dry weather throughout the state, some municipalities like Comstock Township have burn bans in place. So which of the two legal statutes has the final say?
“Obviously, we do have concerns about how dry it is. Everybody knows, you see a lawn, you see a garden … it’s struggling,” said Matt Miller, who serves as the township’s communications development coordinator.
Since Monday, Comstock Township has enforced a burn ban prohibiting the use of consumer fireworks, according to Section III of their fireworks ordinance. Miller said it was at the recommendation of the Department of Natural Resources, which still has the area under at least a high fire danger rating as of Thursday.
“We are going to look at everything from just what we can see, as well as data we’re getting in from across the state to determine if it is safe to open burns,” Miller said.
However, the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act, a state law passed in 2011, says a local government like Comstock Township’s “shall not regulate the ignition, discharge, or use of consumer fireworks” after 11 a.m. during five different times out of the year, including June 29 through July 4 until 11:45 p.m. and on July 5 if it falls on a Friday or Saturday.
Comstock Township is still going to enforce their burn ban, which includes fireworks.
“As a local municipality, we do want to make sure that we are able to, looking at our unique conditions, make some of these choices that we feel are safe and are still the best for our fire department,” Miller said.
“To me, I do believe Comstock tried to address that. But still, if you have a state law that specifically says that fireworks may not be prohibited during a particular time frame, then a local ordinance cannot supersede that,” said attorney Sarissa Montague with Levine & Levine. “The local governments are required to … follow that unless they can come up with a justification about why they shouldn’t have (to).”
One possibility surrounds the fact there is no language in the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act that addresses expressed fire dangers during drought conditions.
In July 2012, about a year after the act was passed, pyrotechnics and abnormally dry conditions at the time were believed to cause a Kentwood church to catch fire. Montague says similar conditions today could pose a change to the law that may help townships, cities and counties to be proactive.
“Maybe there should be an exception in the law, in state law, to allow local governments to take action and to prohibit certain acts if they feel that there’s a real danger to their citizens,” Montague explained. “That does make sense. It is something that certainly could be brought up.”
Just like any state law, Montague says that the fireworks safety act can be readdressed by lawmakers. In this case, it can be done through local drought conditions, burn bans or DNR fire danger ratings.