Cedar Rapids likely to restrict fireworks

Issue has drawn many phone calls, emails, mayor says

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Elected officials say more restrictions on fireworks are needed but will not hold a special meeting to address it before a usage window closes on Saturday — despite a flood of feedback that rivals any issue in years.

“There have been a lot of people complaining about fireworks and asking if we would have some special meeting and limit that,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said. “But, at this point in time, the Fourth is (Tuesday). This first initial fireworks season is over for all practical purposes. So, when it’s done, we will see if worked.”

Fireworks have drawn significant backlash.

A petition is calling on the City Council to add restrictions. City Council members have fielded phone calls and emails, “more than for speed cameras or potholes” or any other issue during Corbett’s eight years as mayor, he said.

There’s been support, too, enough to sustain numerous vendors in the area.

“My experience is that the vast majority of us that do shoot fireworks are respectful of our neighbors and the ordinance,” Tim Gorton said in an email.

In May, Corbett recommended Cedar Rapids follow dates outlined in a new state law that allows use and sales from June 1 to July 8, generally between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. This was better than restricting or banning their use — which some cities did, as allowed by the new law — because it would be nearly impossible to enforce while sales are legal, Corbett said.

Virtually all cities — whether they allowed fireworks or not — are facing challenges this year, he said.

In Iowa City, for example, which continued its usage ban, police fielded 57 calls about fireworks from June 1 to 27 compared to one in that period in 2016. A few days later, the city reminded residents fireworks are still illegal even as sale tents popped up around town.

Cedar Rapids City Council member Susie Weinacht initially wanted a ban, but compromised to support a losing bid to restrict fireworks to a handful of days.

Weinacht agreed it doesn’t make sense to intervene at this point.

“Pandora’s box has been opened,” she said. “To pull it back and get it restrained with a few days left, I’m not sure it is doable. They have them in their hands, and they can go continue to purchase them.”

She plans to work quickly to review data from the past several weeks.

She said she hasn’t yet decided whether she will favor restrictions or an outright ban but said she certainly supports more limitations than now. Weinacht said the youth service and public safety committee, which she chairs, will hear data from Fire Chief Mark English when it next meets July 17.

Kris Gulick, who voted in favor of following the state lead, was among those who inquired about a special City Council meeting to address fireworks before the Fourth. He said he favors restricting fireworks use to a couple of days around the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve holidays and eliminating the long window.

“I am not seeing a lot of community benefit on this,” he said. “It’s been surprising how many people are shooting them off.”

Corbett, who criticized state lawmakers for putting cities in a difficult position, had said all along the City Council would examine how the first fireworks period went and make changes thereafter. He said restrictions are likely.

The next period where fireworks are allowed will be before and after New Year’s Day, between Dec. 10 and Jan. 3.

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