Fireworks fans and aficionados in Kenai will have to keep making the trip to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley for their New Year’s party favors.
The Kenai City Council decided against expanding access to fireworks at its meeting Wednesday. Perhaps not too surprisingly, several public safety officers testified against the proposed ordinance, which would have allowed for sales of fireworks within the city and eased restrictions on use.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management Director Scott Walden was first up, with a little history and perspective based on fireworks regulations in the borough.
“In about 1983, there was a family that went and bought a load of fireworks and put in their pickup truck, a man and his three children who were all under 12 years old. Somehow the fireworks ignited. It destroyed the truck while they were in it. One of the young men died and two of them were injured and suffer from those injuries to this day. The city at that time supported this ban for this reason. You can’t control personal choice, but you can control what people have access to.”
James Baisden is the Fire Chief for the Nikiski Fire Service Area. He says that serious incidents involving fireworks may not be frequent, but they do happen with some regularity.
“We have dealt with this issue many times and it seems like we repeat it about every 10 years. I would say the possibility of injuries that could take place and the fire dangers that exist ... it’s not worth what revenue we can bring in. Are you willing to, in a year or two, have someone point to the city of Kenai and say, 'We purchased those fireworks and my child was injured? We purchased those fireworks here, and there was a Big Lake incident (where 350 home were destroyed by a fire started by fireworks). I’d ask you to just step back and ask, 'Is it really worth it?'”
Council member Henry Knackstedt introduced the ordinance back in March and it’s been refined a bit since then. He says the main goal was to raise some revenue for the city off a product that can’t be purchased legally any closer than Houston, some 200 miles away. He acknowledged the safety concerns, but countered that there are already plenty of products available for sale in Kenai that, if misused, could be just as dangerous as a potential fireworks accident.
“What people do with gasoline, and I don’t want to get silly with that, but it’s true. Alcohol could be much worse. If all of these things are used properly, it’s not a problem. Same thing with fireworks. The concern is real and it should be monitored. We have a fire chief who is responsible to determine if fireworks can be banned at anytime due to fire dangers. The other thing in the ordinance is that it comes back to council in two years. So really what we’re looking at is ... two months of legality over a long period of time.”
Vice Mayor Tim Navarre was opposed to the measure, but for reasons besides just basic safety concerns. He said he wants to be a good neighbor.
“And we do have the borough and the areas of Ridgeway and K-Beach, city of Soldotna and others that actually shop and do business in our community, and our actions will affect their communities. I don’t want to push this out there to where we sell fireworks and they have to deal with our problem.”
As Knackstedt was the lone yes vote on the measure, New Year’s revelers will still have to travel a bit to get their fireworks, and they’ll still be limited to that 48-hour window to light up the night sky.