Cedar Rapids residents fuming over fireworks

'Every night is the Fourth of July in my neighborhood'

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The fledgling fireworks experiment in Cedar Rapids has already gotten “out of control,” some residents say.

The explosions go boom, boom, boom for hours, night after night, all across the city. It distresses pets, military veterans with PTSDs, wakes up young children and poses public safety risks, according to interviews and letters received by city officials.

“This bill has been a complete and utter disaster and an act of stupidity,” said Eric Wullner, 53, of Cedar Rapids. “Every night is the Fourth of July in my neighborhood and always beyond the times permitted by law.”

Earlier this year, the Iowa Legislature legalized sale and use of consumer-grade fireworks from June 1 through July 8 and from Dec. 10 through Jan. 3. While Cedar Rapids could have maintained its usage ban — although not banned sales — the City Council last month disregarded the recommendation of its public safety officials and voted to let the state law and dates prevail in part because of the difficulty of enforcement.

Cedar Rapids City Hall has received 27 contacts about fireworks in the past month, all negative. One person wrote to city officials earlier in May in favor of fireworks.

A petition formed by a group called Cedar Rapids Residents Against Fireworks had generated about 2,500 signatures by Monday afternoon. The petition urges the City Council to reconsider its decision and more greatly limit the use of fireworks.

“My dogs are terrified,” Jennifer Knerr commented on the petition. “We are trapped in our house, can’t open the windows, can’t sleep at night, basically can’t have a normal functioning home due to everyone shooting off fireworks whenever they want.”

State Rep. Ken Rizer, R-Marion, who supported lifting the ban in Iowa, said he’s received both feedback for and against the fireworks, and his message has been to let the local city officials know because it is a “local control issue.” He said it is too early to say how the new law is working.

“It doesn’t make sense to me to have a statewide ban in a rural state like Iowa,” Rizer said. “That is why the law allows cities and counties to be more restrictive if they wanted to,” Rizer said.

In Marion, which OK’d use of fireworks from June 24 to July 8, extra dispatch help had to be brought in on overtime to handle an increased call volume on the first weekend fireworks were allowed, and the fire department has taken 20 calls of opposition separately, Fire Chief Debra Krebill said. She said her department has responded to two grass fires caused by fireworks,

A petition calling for a ban on unpermitted fireworks in Marion has generated about 100 signatures.

Coralville maintained its ban on fireworks, and has received just one call for service tied to fireworks this year, compared to 33 last year, Police Chief Shane Kron said. He said few vendors have set up shop, but some of the larger big box stores are planning to set up sale displays before the Fourth of July.

“We’ll see what happens here coming up this weekend,” Kron said. “Even 33 for the whole year in 2016 is not a whole lot. People are pretty respectful of their neighbors.”

Wullner, who lives in the southeast quadrant, said a couple neighbors are exploding fireworks nightly beginning around 6 or 7 p.m. until past 10 p.m., which is the end time for fireworks, other than for Fourth of July and the surrounding weekends when it is 11 p.m. Two neighbors have had dogs break through fences to get away from the sound of fireworks, he said.

He said he’s approached one neighbor directly about toning down the use, but it “did not go very well.” He called police, too, he said.

Dale Todd, who lives in the southeast quadrant, said the consistent fireworks are problematic for his autistic son. He said there needs to be some moderation.

“When you disregard the recommendation of the fire chief and other law enforcement officials it usually doesn’t result in good, safe public policy,” he said. “This is completely out of control.”

At least three fires this year have been attributed to fireworks, including a garage fire that spread to the second floor and attic at 3455 Dalewood Ave. SE on June 19, a lawn fire that spread to a garage at 411 G Ave. NW on May 4 and a fire that started in the garage and spread to the home at 512 12th St. SE on June 4.

From June 1-22, the Cedar Rapids Police Department received 62 calls for service for a fireworks incident, many of which were because use was after legal hours, and more than 200 calls have come in during legal hours of use, said Greg Buelow, Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman.

Through June 25, the department has responded to 136 fireworks-related incidents, such as noise causing children and pets to be scared, trouble for an autistic child, and “people saying that they can’t go on walks,” Buelow said. In some case, the callers thought a gun had been fired, he said.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, who was part of a 5-2 vote to follow the looser state law, said city officials will revisit the issue once the first window for shooting fireworks ends on July 8. That was the plan all along, he said.

Corbett said city officials were put in a difficult position after state lawmakers legalized the sale, and because of that the city’s decision on lifting the ban makes little difference because people have more access to fireworks.

“I don’t think it would have made a difference,” Corbett said. “Basically people have access to the fireworks now because tents are popping up all over the community. ... In the past, people would go to Missouri and light them all off at once. Now people can reload whenever they want.”

City Council member Scott Olson, who proposed not allowing any usage, calls the past few weeks with fireworks a “fiasco.” He said he is prepared to ride out the rule as is until July 8, but plans to call for an ordinance to either ban fireworks or a compromise to restrict use to July 3 and 4 and Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.

“My emails and phone calls on my home phone are growing dramatically as people are being bothered by the amount of fireworks discharged throughout the city,” Olson said.

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

Businesses who are licensed to sell fireworks in Iowa

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