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SUNSET BEACH—Residents say something needs to be done about fireworks, especially on the island.
But town officials say the state preempts any local rules governing the issue.
The remarks followed a discussion at the April 7 town council meeting in which town attorney Michael Isenberg said the town does not have an ordinance prohibiting fireworks “because the state preempted us.”
If someone violates the fireworks rule, “they’ll be charged with a misdemeanor,” Isenberg said.
The town’s code enforcement officers could sign for a civil penalty, he added.
Town administrator Gary Parker said the rules “will be enforceable under state law.”
Sunset Beach Police Chief Lisa Massey said the town can’t carry out a proposal to increase fireworks fines from $50 to $100 because of state law.
But she said the state rule has a maximum fine of $500 and up to 30 days in jail.
“That is the fine for that,” she said. “We can add that to the beach access signs.”
Town councilman Bob Bobinski expressed concern about “spent rockets in the dunes.
“That’s dangerous stuff,” he said.
Massey said fireworks are still going to be ignited “regardless of what you do, but we’re doing the best we can” to enforce rules prohibiting them.
Last year, she said her department circulated fliers alerting visitors to fireworks rules.
Sunset Beach Fire Chief Chris Barbee talked about a recent house fire on the island’s east end he said was ignited by a 13-year-old illegally shooting fireworks.
Island resident Jean Hutchinson asked town officials to “clarify the whole fireworks thing.
“We do have a grave concern about that, especially in light of what happened a couple of weeks ago,” she said, referring to the house fire.
“Is there just nothing the town can do, concerning the fine?” she asked. “Right now I understand $50, but I understand you’re saying it really isn’t?”
Massey acknowledged the town couldn’t impose its own rules.
“State law covers the subject thoroughly,” Isenberg reiterated. “That preempts a municipality from also regulating the same subject. And that’s so there’s not inconsistency between a state law and a municipal law and other municipalities.”
He added the state law actually has more teeth.
“It’s just it’s not a violation of a municipal ordinance, so the town can’t set its own penalties and things for it,” he said.
Massey reiterated the penalty could be as high as $500.
“And another thing is the mandatory appearance in court,” she said. “So when we issue a citation, if they’re from out of town, they’re going to have to come back here.”
Ultimately, she said it’s up to a judge.
“Even if they don’t get a fine, court costs are $120 now,” Isenberg added.
Hutchinson said residents who live in close proximity to “others who come and set fireworks off appreciate knowing that there is something with more teeth.”
Sunset Beach Mayor Ronald Klein said even though it’s a state law taking precedence, the town has the same enforcement people out monitoring the situation.
Lee Eisnacher, who lives on 38th Street, said the fireworks issue “is not just July 4th. We had ’em last Easter holiday, and they go on throughout the year.”
Eisnacher is concerned the town is growing so big, “that there will not be enough police personnel available to take care of fireworks or other issues on the island. And it’s just not the holidays, it’s all year-round. And if it were my house at the end of the beach, I wouldn’t take it in such humorous fashion. Because once one goes, depending on the wind, they can all go.”
Klein said the town would not pursue annexing an area unless it can provide services to its own community as well as extend identical services to the community being taken over.