BUCKHANNON – A member of the Upshur County community requested the county commission enact a noise ordinance in regard to fireworks at their meeting Thursday.
Resident Jan Craig said she wanted to stop the randomness of setting off fireworks throughout the county at any time. Veterans and pets can be especially sensitive to the loud bangs, she noted.
“I’m here to try and stop the fireworks for our veterans and our pets,” Craig said. “In 2016, as you all well know, West Virginia enacted legislation to allow fireworks to be sold in West Virginia and discharged in West Virginia.”
She said in 2017 the City of Buckhannon passed an ordinance that detailed when fireworks could be set off, but that does not cover areas outside city limits.
“I’m a proud wife of a veteran, my father was a veteran, my father-in-law, my brothers-in-law, my uncles, my nephew … It affects these people, these random mortar shells, which is what they are — that’s what they hear,” Craig said. “One-in-five veterans that came home from Afghanistan and Iraq has some form of PTSD. We have them living right in our community, and that doesn’t take into account the veterans from other wars that are living in West Virginia.”
When permitted times and dates for fireworks are set in advance, like on the Fourth of July, veterans can prepare — but not when they can be set off at any time or date, Craig said.
“Let’s talk injuries. Every year there are about 9,100 hospital visits due to injuries from fireworks. Let’s be honest about it — parents buy fireworks and kids are releasing them,” Craig said. “Kids that are not equipped to be working with explosives. Are we willing to risk our residents?”
Pets, too, struggle with the loud noises.
According to the ASPCA, 15 to 20 percent of pets lost due to fireworks are never reunited with their families, Craig said.
“Dogs have a different hearing level than we do,” she told commissioners. “That’s part of the reason [they get so scared]. Fireworks are loud, they’re unpredictable, they pose a threat, and they make them feel trapped.”
Craig said Weston has outlawed fireworks being set off in the city, and after speaking to their chief of police, she learned they are planning to ask for an ordinance to outlaw selling them in Weston as well.
The City of Buckhannon’s ordinance says fireworks can released on July 4 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. or on the night of New Year’s Eve from 11a.m. until 12:30 a.m. They can also be released on 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on the Saturday preceding or following Independence Day, when the holiday itself does not fall on a Saturday.
Craig also pointed out that Buckhannon provides a firework show for everyone at a specific time, coordinated by professionals.
“What do we need to do to protect our citizens — our veterans — should be our number one priority,” Craig said. “Our pets should be our other priority, and just the sanity and calmness of Upshur County.”
However, Upshur County Commission president Terry Cutright said he did not feel he could support a county ordinance when state law allows the selling and launching of fireworks.
“I have a real problem supporting an ordinance when the state has passed a law that says people can sell them and they can set them off,” Cutright said. “If the city wants to pass an ordinance, I understand that because that’s a lot of people in tight quarters, but there is a reason people live in the county and not the city, and this might be one of them.”
Craig said she plans to speak with the city about beefing up the enforcement of their ordinance, but noted people in the county have no way to prepare in advance because people can launch fireworks whenever they like.
“I think we pretty much know when it’s going to happen — when the tents go up, they start, and when the tents go down, they stop,” Cutright said.
“But why should we be tortured for a period of six-to-eight weeks?” Craig asked. “The tents were still up in Weston last year at the beginning of September.”
Cutright, however, noted that many Upshur County residents enjoy setting off fireworks and might disagree with Craig’s desire to restrict when they can be used.
“I would ask that you all at least look at the ordinances from other counties and municipalities and see what is going on statewide, because I think this is becoming a statewide movement,” Craig said. “We are moving away from this. In my opinion, it was a mistake that the legislation was ever enacted.”
Commissioner Sam Nolte said they would look at other ordinances that have been passed in other counties and cities, but he was inclined to agree with Cutright.