Archive for » August 9th, 2017«

U-turn on fireworks: Cedar Rapids committee supports ban, restricting sales

B.A. Morelli

The Gazette

CEDAR RAPIDS — A City Council subcommittee on Tuesday recommended an outright ban on fireworks and restricting sales to industrial zones in city limits.

This comes 10 weeks after Iowa’s second-largest city adopted the most lax rules allowed in the state on firework use, leading to round-the-clock explosions, angry residents, hundreds of police calls, fires, litter, and air quality issues.

“It’s not healthy,” said Barb Buchanan, 69, who lives in Wellington Heights. “Neighborhoods sound like war zones. Veterans, animals, air quality, sound quality — these should be concerns for anyone.”

She applauded the public safety and youth services subcommittee, which voted 3-0 to propose strict controls on firework use and sales.

The recommendation will go to the Cedar Rapids City Council for approval at its next meeting, 4 p.m. Aug. 22 at City Hall, 101 First St. SE.

The city voted 5-2 on May 26 resolving to follow the lead of a newly adopted state law, which legalized consumer fireworks sales and use around Fourth of July and New Year’s, from June 1 through July 8 and between Dec. 10 and Jan. 3, generally from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Some cities opted to ban or limit fireworks use, which was allowed by the new law.

“Our state Legislature passed the use and sales of fireworks citing Iowa as a rural state, and I, as an official in Iowa’s second largest city, cannot in good conscience support the continued use of fireworks within Cedar Rapids city limits,” said Susie Weinacht, a council woman and chairwoman of the committee.

Larger urban areas in Missouri, which allows legal fireworks, have banned the use, including Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, Columbia and Jefferson City, according to city research. Weinacht said Cedar Rapids should follow suit, noting fireworks aren’t appropriate here given the density of homes in many neighborhoods.

Cedar Rapids had among the most fireworks vendors in the state with 41 permits for permanent or temporary locations, and police reported 17 others were selling without a permit and seven tents didn’t have proper permits.

Restricting sales to industrial zones, which passed the legal test in Des Moines, would mitigate safety and aesthetic issues, according to the recommendation.

The committee heard testimony from residents and evidence from public safety, housing and utilities officials for the city.

Steve Hershner, the city utilities director, presented data showing elevated levels of percolate — a contaminant found in fireworks that can disrupt the thyroid — in two soil samples taken on July 5 near a water well by the Ellis Boat Harbor and Ellis Park where fireworks were frequently detonated.

Meanwhile hourly air quality reports showed the concentration of contaminants elevated in the early days fireworks vendors began selling, and contaminants spiked higher to “unhealthy for sensitive groups” and “unhealthy” for everyone in the days around Fourth of July, with peaks in the late night hours and elevated levels persisting until morning.

“This shows the impact of smoke and byproducts carry over to the next day,” Hershner said.

Hershner said the difference between regulated professional fireworks for special events, which have more explosive punch, is the permit holder must clean up afterwords. Litter permeated sites where unregulated fireworks were rampant, which contributed to the elevated levels of contaminants, he said.

Public safety officials identified issues with vendors as well as fireworks users.

Calls for police service and computer dispatched messages about fireworks climbed to 946 during from June 1 to July 8, compared with 486 during that time in 2016, according to police data. Three building fires, two Dumpster fires, and fireworks were thrown at a house during the most recent period of legalized fireworks. Fire officials responded to four medical calls, including a 14 year old with serious burns, and 21 fireworks-related patients visited UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s and Mercy Medical Center.

A troubling data point was 33 police calls for gunshots fired that turned out to be fireworks, and two no-calls where residents thought fireworks were going off but it turned out gun shots were fired, said Greg Buelow, a public safety spokesman.

The police strategy to enforce the fireworks ban includes assembling a team dedicated to investigate fireworks violations and file charges carrying penalties of up to $650. Also, properties subject to frequent calls for service related to fireworks could be charged for police time under the city’s SAFE-CR nuisance property program.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com


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Fox Lake homeowners, businesses recovering from flooding – WGN

FOX LAKE, Ill. – Last month’s severe flooding continues to impact people in the northern suburbs. Many homeowners and businesses are just now starting to get back on their feet.

When the weather’s good, business for small cities along Illinois lakes and rivers is right there with it. But when it’s bad, it’s really bad.

It was devastating for some because timing in business, as in life, is everything.

“June and July are the two number one months for selling and having fun out here,” Warren Moulis, Fox Lake Marina, said.

Moulis owns three marinas on Fox Lake. One of them had six inches of water in it and fish swimming in the shin-high water in the parking lot.

They couldn’t get in the front door for a week and half, and closed for another two weeks to clean up. That meant no gas sales, no boat sales—no real income coming in.

“There is no making it up. Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Moulis said. “We were still pretty fortunate compared to a lot of people we’ve heard their houses, a lot of restaurants were closed also.”

About 200 homes were damaged in Fox Lake alone during last month’s flooding. FEMA inspectors were assessing damage on Tuesday.

Fox Lake Mayor Donny Schmit said while the flooding damage was bad there is one big reason it wasn’t as bad as in years past.

“We were able to get out information much more this time people were very much prepared,” the mayor said.

Still, the flooding cost the town hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and clean-up costs.

The mayor also estimates businesses like marinas and restaurants lost 20 to 25 percent of their yearly income.

“The flooding occurred during the prime time of their season they only have four to five months to make their income. It’s affected virtually every business in town,” the mayor said.

They’ve made it through floods before, and they know this wasn’t their last one. The town and its businesses will do what they always do—take the good weather with the bad and just hope to see a lot of warm sunny days well into September.

“We just get our feet back up and go, you know, whatever we can,” M said.

The mayor doesn’t think they’ll hit the threshold for state or federal emergency money, which will make it a tough budget year but also goes to show how prepared they were.


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