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Valley News Dispatch

New Kensington residents' group calls for crackdown on fireworks

| Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, 9:27 a.m.

A new, grassroots New Kensington improvement group wants to curb the use of consumer fireworks in the city.

City residents Kathy Naumann, Kevin Prall and Lane Bennett told city council Monday they started New Ken Rising to make New Kensington a “safer and better community.”

Naumann, a Woodmont Avenue resident and the president of the fledgling group, said the idea is to get citizens involved in the community to help solve the many problems it faces.

While commending city officials’ efforts at trying to move the city forward, Naumann said, “We remain a blighted city trying to rise.”

To help achieve their goals, Naumann said the group has a “dirty dozen” list of issues it wants to address, including some dealing with the blight stemming from abandoned buildings that continue to deteriorate.

But what the group discussed specifically was the use of consumer fireworks in the city, which it considers dangerous with the potential to result in the loss of property and even lives from the fire hazard it presents.

Bennett pointed out that under Act 43, the state law approved several months ago that legalized the use of fireworks in Pennsylvania, consumer fireworks cannot be set off, legally, in New Kensington.

That is because the law prohibits the use of fireworks within 150 feet of an occupied structure and, given how tightly developed the city is, that is virtually impossible.

The law also prohibits the use of consumer fireworks on any property unless permission is granted by the property owner regardless of how far from a structure the fireworks are used. That means residents would have to get permission from the city before using fireworks on public property.

What Bennett and Prall, who live together in the 1300 block of Woodmont Avenue, said they found disturbing, is that the city does not seem to be enforcing that part of the law.

“I think the city is opening itself up for huge liability if it doesn’t do something to get it under control,” Prall said.

Police Chief Bob Deringer said his department is not ignoring the problem.

“If witnesses call us and the 911 call volume is not too high, my guys are responding to them,” Deringer said of fireworks complaints.

Mayor Tom Guzzo conceded that New Kensington officials were taken aback by the legalization of fireworks, one of numerous changes to state law under Act 43 of 2017 aimed at generating tax revenues.

He said officials in other cities he has spoken with are equally surprised and are now seeking ways to keep fireworks under control.

Guzzo said the city is looking at adjusting its ordinances but Councilman Todd Mentecki also pointed out that the city has to be careful because city ordinances cannot supersede state law.

Naumann said New Ken Rising will be circulating petitions throughout the city calling for strict enforcement of the fireworks regulations that should support city officials in their efforts to do that.

For his part, Guzzo welcomes the establishment of New Ken Rising and its objectives.

“I look forward to working with them,” he said. “I think that having eyes and ears for us to be able to address comprehensive problems across the city is extremely valuable.

“I think getting people involved who have the city’s best interests at heart can only help us.”

Tom Yerace is a freelance writer.

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