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A Times Editorial

Fireworks decision creates undue risk

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2000

Port Richey City Manager Vince Lupo proclaims to love fireworks.

If the City Council adopts a proposed ordinance, Lupo will still have a place to buy them. Lucky for him. But unfortunate for firefighters and landowners who still face an immediate risk of brush fires despite the apparent onset of the rainy season.

Tuesday night, Port Richey proposed an ordinance outlawing individual use of fireworks but allowing commercial sales to continue. The city's philosophy of buy 'em here, shoot 'em off elsewhere is misguided and contradicts actions taken by Pasco County, Dade City and Zephyrhills.

Intergovernmental cooperation has never been Port Richey's strong suit, but this plan puts the rest of the county at risk while allowing the city to collect the sales tax revenue from fireworks sales.

Rather than fear litigation from the fireworks industry, Port Richey should fear for the safety of the public. Its size and demographics make the likelihood of a fireworks-induced brush fire remote inside the municipal limits. But by allowing the temporary fireworks stands to set up shop inside the city, Port Richey provides an outlet for people bent on pursuing an activity outlawed in most of the county.

The New Port Richey City Council has not discussed a fireworks ban but should. Likewise, the Pasco County Commission, scheduled to meet this morning to consider lifting its ban, should leave it in place for the time being.

The fireworks ban in Pasco and elsewhere came in response to an extended drought that left much of Florida susceptible to brush fires. So far, 3,697 fires have burned 134,581 acres.

Representatives of the fireworks industry are quick to point out that none of the fires were caused by their products. Still, conditions make the area susceptible to combustion, and local governments' precautionary actions are prudent.

Port Richey should join in, particularly because its own legal counsel correctly recognizes the farce that is the state law governing fireworks use. Patrons of fireworks stands must sign a document stating the products will be used for agriculture purposes. It's certainly hard to spot widespread agricultural opportunities in Port Richey.

"I think the whole thing is an industry based on a lie," observed Pasco County Commissioner Steve Simon.

If Gov. Jeb Bush is content to allow local government to determine the legality of fireworks use during the drought, Port Richey and other cities in Pasco should make sure the current ban is uniform.

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