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Published: Wednesday, 7/2/2008

LaSalle Township continues court fight with fireworks dealer


LaSALLE, Mich. - A hearing in a lawsuit filed by LaSalle Township against Red Falcon Fireworks seeking a court order to shut down the retailer until the owner complies with state building and fire codes will resume July 11 in Monroe County Circuit Court.

Judge Joseph Costello, Jr., took testimony from witnesses last month in the complaint, which alleges Red Falcon - located on South Otter Creek Road near heavily traveled I-75 - is selling fireworks out of a building that doesn't meet state regulations.

The township claims the business is not in compliance with the Michigan Building Code and International Fire Code under the regulations for "hazardous substance occupancy."

Also at issue is whether the fireworks store, owned by Springfield Township businessman John Miller III, is selling fireworks that are considered illegal under Michigan law.

Nancy Feick, an attorney representing the township, said many of the fireworks in the store are Class B or commercial grade fireworks, and often include rocket launchers, small mortars, and the like.

By law, consumers can't buy Class B fireworks without a permit. Anything that makes a loud report or leaves the ground falls under the classification.

However, they can purchase Class C fireworks, which include sparklers, fountains, toy snakes, and caps.

"Some of the fireworks they are selling cannot be legally purchased in Michigan without a permit," said Ms. Feick.

Monroe County has earned the reputation as the place to buy fireworks.

No less than five businesses are located in Erie Township near I-75 exits, and several are located near Exit 11 in Monroe Charter Township.

Another retailer began selling fireworks recently across the road from the Red Falcon Fireworks location in LaSalle Township.

"Law enforcement has chosen not to enforce the laws," Ms . Feick said. "They should be upholding the laws, and not looking the other way."

The penalty for possession of illegal fireworks - a misdemeanor offense - is a $100 fine.

Erik Chappell, an attorney who represents Mr. Miller, said his client has been in business at the same location since 1993, when the township gave him permission to operate.

"This is the same business and is operating in the same building that was improved when the township gave Mr. Miller permission to do what he is doing now," he said.

Mr. Miller said he can't understand the motivation behind the township's effort to enforce the state codes that were adopted several years ago and not on the books when he opened in 1993.

"We are not doing anything different whatsoever than any of the other fireworks stores in Monroe County," he said. "This is selective enforcement."

Regulations for fireworks businesses vary throughout the townships.

Erie Township requires that retailers wanting to sell fireworks provide proof of having at least $1 million in liability insurance and obtain permits that carry up to $150 in fees.

The businesses must also sign hold-harmless agreements that absolve the township of any liability.

Calvin Schmitt, fire inspector of Monroe Charter Township, said fireworks retailers are subject to inspections for compliance with fire and building codes. "They must have fire extinguishers and fire suppression systems," he said. "They have to follow the same rules as any other business."

Monroe County Prosecutor Bill Nichols said individuals who are accused of violating the state fireworks law will be prosecuted, whether it be a juvenile caught shooting off illegal fireworks or complaints from residents about noise made by illegal fireworks.

"We will prosecute firework violators," he said. "We will follow the law."

Monroe Police Chief John Michrina said officers will be on the lookout for illegal fireworks and violators will be cited.

"This causes untold grief for us. People go out in the townships, buy illegal fireworks, and bring them into densely populated areas to shoot them off. It is a real problem for our county, and it needs to be addressed," he said.

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