Though the 2019 Fourth of July season went off without a sizable hitch in Blount County, concerns about the noisy and bright fireworks are forcing Maryville to rethink its pyrotechnics policy.
Leaders are now considering shortening Maryville’s legal fireworks time allowance from two weeks to two days during holidays, months after they were declared legal countywide.
Council members and city officials discussed the matter in an Aug. 23 workshop, mulling over the best course of action.
“Maryville was perfectly happy with fireworks being disallowed ... in the county for years,” City Manager Greg McClain told The Daily Times in an interview. But that didn’t stop people from buying them elsewhere and setting them off.
When this was the case, enforcement was straightforward: People would set off fireworks, their neighbors would report the fireworks and officers would take care of the issue.
“We can deal with that,” McClain said. “We were happy with it just the way it was.”
Then the County Commission decided to allow fireworks.
Alcoa fell in line and left Maryville to debate whether it would stick with the ban inside its 17 square-mile city limits. More people would have inevitably bought fireworks in Alcoa and the county only to bring them inside Maryville limits and set them off illegally, McClain said.
“Then it becomes an enforcement issue,” McClain explained. “It’s easy to respond to 10 or 20 or 30 calls. Now let’s say we have 60 or 70 or 100 calls. How do you deal with that?”
So, Maryville also fell in line with the county and Alcoa to make fireworks legal for a two-week span of time around the July 4 holiday. They also tried to make the law similar to their neighbors’ to avoid confusion over differences between the cities and the county.
Between this confusion and some citizen complaints, Maryville is set to move forward with trimming the fireworks allowance time to two days.
Regulations, complaints and changes
Current ordinances show that fireworks are allowed from “from June 20-July 5 and from Dec. 10-Jan. 2 and at no other time.”
The actual time of day fireworks are permitted to be set off is from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
But two points of data show the effect the changed ordinance made on this year’s summer fireworks celebrations.
Even though there were 11 fireworks vendor locations in Maryville city limits alone, police received only 31 calls during the two-week stint around July 4, Maryville Police and Fire Chief Tony Crisp informed McClain in an email.
That number actually represents a decrease in the number of calls, 41, from the 2018 season, when fireworks were not legal.
“(These numbers) are a reflection of our community that says, ‘Well it’s legal, so if I call they’re not going to do anything.’ We think that’s why that number looks the way it does,” McClain said.
He added City Council members have received a number of calls from people who thought two weeks was too much.
Residents even addressed council in the August meeting to stand up for panicked animals and soldiers with PTSD.
The loud noises and bright flashes usually associated with fireworks were not the only issues brought to the fore by citizens.
McClain confirmed he also heard complaints about where fireworks were being sold.
Specifically, many stands in Maryville were set up at gas stations even though the city’s ordinance 7-702-7 reads, “Fireworks may not be sold anywhere where any resin, turpentine, gasoline or other flammable substance is used, stored or sold.”
“The people coming in and inspecting the site and location are not us,” McClain said. “The state fire marshals come in and say where you can go and where you can’t go.”
According to McClain, the city had to modify its fireworks laws in many areas to what the state allowed.
Tennessee’s standards allow fireworks tents to be placed no fewer than 50 feet away from gas stations.
“That’s one of the things we’re going to be changing,” McClain said, “to make sure we don’t have a conflict with what the state does and what we do. In the state’s mind, so long as you’re far enough away from the gas pumps, you’re fine.”
These and other considerations will go into tweaking the ordinance to be stricter on fireworks use in the city. The city of Alcoa did not respond to a call inquiring about its fireworks ordinances.
McClain said the Maryville council could consider amending the ordinance as soon as October. If it passes in time, New Year’s Eve revelers may only have the day of the holiday and the day after to celebrate with bottle rockets and sparklers.