Government

Despite rules, interest in selling fireworks grows in Iowa

Marion sees requests for permits triple since last summer

Ryan King prices fireworks as he works Thursday at JP Fireworks, 895 Seventh Ave. in Marion. Sales from permanent locations like this were allowed by law to start June 1. Sales from temporary locations like tents may start Wednesday. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Ryan King prices fireworks as he works Thursday at JP Fireworks, 895 Seventh Ave. in Marion. Sales from permanent locations like this were allowed by law to start June 1. Sales from temporary locations like tents may start Wednesday. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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MARION — Despite crackdowns in several Iowa cities over where and when fireworks may be sold and set off, authorities expect interest among vendors to swell this Fourth of July season — causing some cities to have second thoughts about whether they’ve done enough to regulate the pyrotechnics so many residents have complained about.

After seeing the number of vendor applications nearly triple since the Iowa Legislature legalized consumer fireworks in time for the last Fourth of July, Marion may revisit its policy on fireworks sales.

“Honestly I think it’s because some of the surrounding cities have limited the sales locations per zoning, and we have not,” said Marion Fire Marshal Wade Markley.

There were eight fireworks vendor locations in Marion in 2017. At Tuesday’s Marion City Council meeting, fire Chief Deb Krebill said the city has received over 20 permit applications so far this year.

Marion City Council member Will Brandt said it’s likely the city will revisit its policy on firework vendors as a result of the increase.

The state law passed last year legalizing consumer fireworks gives local governments flexibility in making rules on when — or even if — they may be ignited.

Marion, for instance, restricted setting off fireworks to between noon and 11 p.m. on July 4 only. After thousands signed a petition, and others bombarded City Hall with phone calls and emails with complaints over the noise, Cedar Rapids reversed course and banned setting off fireworks in the city.

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But the state law does not appear to allow cities or counties to outright ban the sale of fireworks. Nonetheless, several cities and counties have implemented policies sharply limiting where they can be sold.

In Cedar Rapids, vendors cannot operate in the downtown area or within 450 feet of a family or neighborhood residence — limiting sales to industrial areas.

In Iowa City, where it’s illegal to set off fireworks, sales have been limited to industrial zones. And in North Liberty, where the use is banned, too, sales are limited to highway commercial properties.

According to the state fire marshal, there were 458 licensed vendors in Iowa as of May 31. Of those, 220 were at temporary locations like tents, and 238 were permanent — many in places like grocers or drugstores.

The state law allows permanent locations to sell fireworks from June 1 to July 8. Temporary locations are allowed to start selling Wednesday and continue to July 8.

JP Fireworks in Marion, which also sold fireworks last summer, is one of the permanent locations in the area and is selling again this year despite what might be an onslaught of competition.

Manager Emmitt Hamed said many of the temporary locations last year were set up in tents on the edge of Marion near Cedar Rapids.

Hamed said the lack of sales restrictions in Marion may have an impact on sales, but it’s hard to tell right now.

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“A lot of times last year we heard about people applying for permits and not opening,” he said.

Nevertheless, State Fire Marshal Dan Wood said a statewide increase in applications is expected this year.

“Last year we checked around with other states … and they said you’ll have so many the first year, and the next year you’ll have so many plus more, and the third year it drops off,” Wood said.

The state issued 664 vendor permits in 2017. Vendors must renew their permits annually. This year the state began accepting applications March 1. July 8 is the cutoff date.

“Right now, we’re right at about 500-ish but obviously it’s not July 8 and we still have plans coming in every day,” Wood said. “There’s over 700 applications out there.”

Wood said the state expects to issue between 700 and 800 permits this season.

The Marion Fire Department has taken on the responsibility of performing site inspections for the state, Markley said. The state has licensing fees and penalties for infractions, but by law cities and counties are prohibited from charging for initial firework safety inspections.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Marion Public Service Director Ryan Miller said revenue the city receives from the vendors comes from a $50 fee for the tent permit at temporary sites.

If a safety reinspection is needed, there is no charge. But “if there’s a second and third, then we do start charging; for as many times as we go back, it increases,” Krebill said.

Krebill said the rising number of applications places a burden on the Fire Department staff.

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“It takes a lot of time to inspect these to make sure they stay up to code to protect our citizens,” Krebill said. “It’s harder to keep the city safe with that many fireworks in such proximity.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8514; molly.hunter@thegazette.com

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