LOCKPORT – Despite vehement opposition from firefighters, Niagara County on Tuesday became the 19th county in New York to legalize the sales of certain types of fireworks twice a year.
The County Legislature voted 9-6 to allow retail sales of sparklers, party poppers, snappers and other types of small fireworks between June 1 and July 5 and again from Dec. 26 to Jan. 2. The entire Republican-led majority caucus voted yes except for Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, and Legislator Michael A. Hill, R-Hartland. The four Democrats voted no.
“Children are going to get hurt. Remember that. Children are going to get hurt,” predicted Mark Stevens, president of the Niagara County Volunteer Firefighters Association and chief of Bergholz Fire Company.
As in every other meeting the Legislature has held on the issue, no one not affiliated with the fireworks industry showed up to speak in favor of legalization, although Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, asserted that there was a public desire for legalized fireworks.
“I haven’t had one person tell me, ‘Oh, we need sparklers,’ ” said Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls. “I don’t want to see one child get hurt by this. ... If that ever happens, I’ll be the first one back to repeal this law. That’ll all be on your heads, too,” he warned the Republicans.
Virtuoso added, “The only thing I can figure is that there’s a highly connected lobbying firm, Mercury, pushing this.”
Mercury Public Affairs is listed in a state database as a lobbyist for the U.S. Fireworks Safety Commission, which is a fireworks industry group, not a government agency. One of Mercury’s partners is Thomas Doherty, who was lead negotiator for the Niagara Power Coalition in the Niagara Power Project relicensing talks a decade ago. The county is the largest member of that coalition.
The terms of legalization were set by a state law signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo late last year, giving counties outside New York City the ability to legalize fireworks sales if they wanted to. “I keep coming back to the fact the governor of the State of New York said this is an issue that should be decided by the counties,” Updegrove said. Cuomo had vetoed the fireworks bill twice before the local autonomy provision was inserted last year.
The County Legislature first took up the matter in January and set it aside in March, when it became apparent there weren’t enough votes to pass the measure. Updegrove said the Republican-led majority had wanted to do more research on the question.