City taking steps to discourage 'illegal use of fireworks' on July 4 around Gratiot Park

·4 min read
Port Huron resident Donovan Schooler, right, sits with two family members and a massive fireworks supply in advance of July 4, 2021. Schooler said they still planned a display in the Gratiot Park neighborhood this year despite the city's caution against it, citing public safety issues.
Port Huron resident Donovan Schooler, right, sits with two family members and a massive fireworks supply in advance of July 4, 2021. Schooler said they still planned a display in the Gratiot Park neighborhood this year despite the city's caution against it, citing public safety issues.

The city of Port Huron is taking steps to discourage heavy firework displays around Gratiot Park on July 4 in response to amassed crowds in years past and safety concerns alleged by officials.

In an email to City Council late last week, City Manager James Freed said they will be hanging notices on doors in the neighborhood in advance of the weekend’s holiday, writing, “Between park construction and the fire safety issue, we can no longer tolerate the illegals use of fireworks on city property.”

On Monday, Freed said the door-hangers, which state fireworks are prohibited at Gratiot and on public property, are slated to go out sometime this week.

“We’ve had a real problem the last couple years where people have been very dangerous, where hundreds of people are lighting off fireworks in close proximity to children. We had issues last year where people found hot fireworks on the rooves of their homes. The neighbors don’t want it to happen anymore,” he said. “So, we’re essentially letting people know this is not acceptable.”

For some, however, the move comes up against a years-long tradition financed by local residents.

Donovan Schooler lives in the area and grew up seeing fireworks near Gratiot.

More recently, the 30-year-old said three or four families have taken the reins, spending thousands and attempting to designate who lights specific kinds of fireworks. Although he admitted they’re unsanctioned, he said they try to set them off where allowed, believing they’ve never had any serious issues.

And with fireworks already stored, Schooler said he expected the display to carry on as planned this year. The city’s response, he said, bothered him.

“It’s in close proximity to people, yes. But there are only four streets. The city does not block any streets off,” Schooler said. Gratiot Park is bordered by Gratiot Avenue and Hancock, Cherry and Church streets. “They won’t let us fire them in the park, they won’t let us fire them off on the sidewalk. So, what do we have to do? Fire them from a property. … But we’re going to let these fireworks off and give everyone the show that they come for every year.”

More on fireworks rules and city officials’ concerns

According to state law, local governments can’t restrict the use of fireworks around certain holidays, including June 29 to July 4 until 11:45 p.m.

Fireworks aren’t allowed on public property such as parks in the city — as well as streets and sidewalks — and according to state statute, doing so can result in fines up to $500.

According to the door hangers designed for Gratiot Park residents, violators will be cited.

Assistant Police Chief Marcy Kuehn said there have been multiple complaint calls about the display in the past.

“Neighbors expressed concerns over the number of people in the park at night shooting off fireworks in close proximity of each other, causing potential injury, as well as damage to houses nearby,” she said in a message Monday. “In addition, the amount of debris that has remained cost the city money hiring a cleaning crew to come in on overtime to clean the park on July 5.”

When and if there is an incident that requires first responders, Freed said the crowds around the park make it difficult for vehicles to approach the area.

“We don’t have this problem anywhere else but Gratiot,” he said. “Also, there was an injury last year, and it took us 30 minutes to get the person treatment because of the crowds.”

Still, when it comes to the fireworks that they set off themselves, Schooler said they’ve tried to be good stewards in the process, eliminating certain kinds of fireworks from their arsenal.

“There’s not random people lighting off fireworks, there’s not the public providing fireworks. … And there are only four males that are allowed to light the fireworks or place the fireworks,” he said.

Resident alleges city's 'trying to instill fear'; officials look at protecting park

Schooler said he feels they've been harassed over the issue in the past — in part because people of color are involved — and that the city is “trying to instill fear” on just an assumption that something could happen.

Freed said he took offense to the assertion. “We have no idea who’s firing off those fireworks,” he said. "... The law is very clear. There’s places more appropriate.”

Both the city manager and Nancy Winzer, the city’s parks and recreation director, also referenced half-a-million in upcoming park investments, including replacing a playscape.

“Putting in new equipment and obviously construction will be starting. The playground’s coming down this week, and you’ll see infrastructure pieces starting to happen mid-month,” Winzer said. “From that perspective, it’s just making sure those things don’t get (damaged).”

Schooler said they try to clean up after the fireworks — something Winzer confirmed, adding, “They always were very good about picking up the trash and that kind of stuff.”

Contact Jackie Smith (810) 989-6270 or jssmith@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jackie20Smith.

This article originally appeared on Port Huron Times Herald: City taking steps to discourage July 4 fireworks display around Gratiot Park