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Emily Welker, Published February 20 2014

West Fargo police seek ordinance legalizing fireworks

WEST FARGO – After years of being called out for what their chief described as an “unenforceable law,” police here are asking city leaders to make it legal to set off fireworks on Independence Day and New Year’s Eve.

“I think it’s kind of a compromise,” West Fargo Police Chief Arland Rasmussen said of the proposal that will be considered by city commissioners for final approval March 3.

“If you can’t beat them, you probably should join them,” he said.

Rasmussen said his department was called to 58 fireworks complaints last July Fourth. Not one resulted in a report being forwarded to city prosecutors.

Current city ordinance makes lighting fireworks within city limits a misdemeanor, he said.

“We tell people to put them away. It’s probably more trouble than it should be.”

The proposed ordinance would make West Fargo one of few major North Dakota cities that allow lighting fireworks within city limits, and it could be the largest if the ordinance passes, Rasmussen said.

Mandan recently added New Year’s Eve to the times in which fireworks are permitted. Jamestown, Williston and Valley City permit fireworks on the Fourth of July.

West Fargo’s proposed ordinance would allow anyone age 12 or older to set off fireworks within city limits until midnight on Independence Day, and on New Year’s Eve until 1 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

Violators setting off fireworks outside those times would be given a citation. During times of extreme hot weather or other fire-prone conditions, the fire chief would be allowed to suspend permission for fireworks, Rasmussen said.

The chief anticipated some pushback from residents, likely from the same people who now call to complain about noise from fireworks, he said.

That kind of resistance from some residents to legalizing fireworks is something Fargo police are familiar with, said Lt. Joel Vettel.

“Do we take up a lot of resources [with fireworks complaints] during the Fourth? Certainly,” Vettel said. But, “it’s a limited time frame. It’s not really one of those issues we feel the need to take a strong stand on.”

Vettel said support for legalizing Fourth of July fireworks seems to be evenly balanced by those who just as passionately hope they remain banned.

Residents usually complain about fireworks because of the noise and the litter, he said. “Really, what it comes down to is a quality of life issue.”

Given the disparity in public opinion, Vettel said it is unlikely the Fargo Police Department will propose legalizing fireworks within Fargo city limits.

“I think people are going to be very vocal about it,” he said. “It’s certainly going to impact residents right on the border.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541