The village of Essex Jct. will reconsider its protocol for special events after a fireworks display at the Champlain Valley Exposition last month interrupted an otherwise peaceful school night.
Village staff brought the issue before the trustees a week after celebrity evangelist Franklin Graham’s controversial county-wide tour earned approval on a late request to set off fireworks during his stop at CVE on May 22.
Residents took to social media the night of the event to voice frustration with the display, criticizing the timing – around 9 p.m. on a school night – and the lack of notice. Some said the booms woke their young children or scared their pets.
Municipal manager Evan Teich said his staff looked for a specific village policy on fireworks upon receiving the request but was unable to find any specific protocols in the municipal code, so it signed off after running it past the police and fire departments.
“Now we’re alert to the fact that it needs to go to the fire chief, the police chief and then the village board by practice,” Teich told the trustees last week. He said his staff had already been interested in “tightening” the policies that govern special event requests – those that close streets or require some form of additional municipal services – even before the fireworks incident.
At least one town official supports a new policy. In a memo to the trustees and Teich, Police Chief Rick Garey said the town and village are seeing an increasing number of special event requests, placing an increased burden on municipal resources. Meantime, the police department has fielded more and more complaints about how these events are impacting the community.
Teich said beyond homecoming and the Fourth of July, there’s been no other firework displays – at least legal ones – within municipal boundaries in years. He said understanding the trustees’ mindset upfront would better allow staff to shut down requests that have no chance of approval.
“I’m not going to make people jump through hoops only to be turned down at the last hoop,” he said. “I might as well tell them if it’s a school night during the school season, don’t ask – it’s just not going to be approved.”
Trustees authorized a staff committee to come up with a special events permitting policy for their consideration. Teich stressed that the policy with be focused on special events, not a referendum on CVE, given the village already has a five-year agreement in place with the expo that extends through the end of this year. Once that expires, the trustees can implement some new rules, if necessary, Teich said.
Village president Andrew Brown asked staff to loop the selectboard in on the discussion and suggested the policy come before the two boards at an upcoming joint meeting.
“As somebody who grew up on the other side of Pearl Street Park in the town outside the village, and heard the tractor pulls numerous times as though they were right next door – noise doesn’t know geopolitical boundaries,” Brown said.
Trustee Raj Chawla added his hope that the board can ensure that any new policy won’t be cost-prohibitive for smaller events, which often have smaller resources and lower budgets.
“That would be our goal too,” Teich said. “We don’t want to take the fun out of fun, but we also have limited resources ourselves and a lot of things are on weekends when our staff is not here.”