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Thursday, December 14, 2000

City & County of Honolulu

Satellite city halls
gear up for sales of
firecracker permits

Officials are not sure what
will happen when the $25 permits
are placed on sale tomorrow

By Treena Shapiro

City officials are not sure what to expect when new firecracker permits go on sale tomorrow at satellite city halls on Oahu.

"It seems like turnout will be good," said Dolores Tomas who works at the downtown satellite city hall where they have received seven or eight phone inquiries about the permits.

At the Waianae satellite city hall, however, Shirley Calalay said there haven't been any inquiries. "We're not sure where we are at at this point," she said.

Calalay suspected the permit fees could be a deterrent. "It might be kind of expensive," she said.

One $25 permit allows the holder to purchase a maximum of 5,000 firecrackers. While multiple permits can be obtained, retailers are prohibited from selling strings of more than 5,000 pieces.

Opponents of the fireworks regulations have predicted the new law will lead people to buy illegal fireworks on the black market rather than pay the permit fee and limit their firecracker purchases.

City and federal officials said they are preparing for that possibility.

"In terms of black marketing, if we develop information or people call in tips to us we will look into them and definitely do what's necessary," said Jean Motoyama, Honolulu police department spokeswoman.

So far, the city hasn't received any reports of illegal fireworks activity, but Capt. Richard Soo, spokesman for the Honolulu Fire Department, said that a few aerial fireworks seen exploding over Honolulu recently indicate the tradition of illegally using fireworks will continue, despite stricter penalties.

People possessing more than the permitted number of fireworks are subject to a fine of up to $2,000, and those importing and possessing more than 25 pounds of illegal aerials could be guilty of a felony offense.

The new law also makes it more expensive for retailers to make fireworks available in Hawaii and it also appears that there will be fewer legal fireworks stands. At least one major retailer says it will not stock firecrackers this year.

Salt Lake Costco general manager Robert Loomis said Hawaii's Costco stores will bring in more unregulated fireworks such as sparklers, snakes and cylindrical and cone fountains.

"I think the money that won't go into firecrackers will transfer into things they (consumers) are allowed to buy," he said.

Chief Ken Silva of the Fire Prevention Bureau, said there has been a 10 to 15 percent decrease in retail licenses compared to last year.

Nat Aycox, Hawaii area port director for the U.S. Customs Service, said the new restrictions and more stringent inspections haven't changed the volume of fireworks legally entering the islands from other countries.

"For the legitimate vendors and for the people that run the fireworks shows, that's been about normal," he said.

"We have not seen large numbers of illegal fireworks coming in, either smuggled or in passenger baggage," he added.

Customs, however, is only responsible for international shipments, he said, and those bringing in illegal fireworks may be purchasing from states where it's legal to manufacture or sell fireworks and shipping them through domestic waters.

Silva said that once the fireworks are on land, fire personnel will be visiting the retail outlets to make sure the licenses are in place, but that won't necessarily stop the illegal firework trafficking.

"If they're going to be illegal, they're not going to have a stand. They're going to sell them out of their homes, garages, what have you," he said.

Whether the permits will be successful in reducing the smoke and noise of previous years is yet to be determined, Silva said.

The city has printed 40,000 permits for New Year's Eve, Chinese New Year and Independence Day. "We'll see how long they last," he said.

The city expects to add $200,000 from the permits and increased fees. The money will into the general fund.

Soo said the fire department will try to convince the City Council to give the money back to the department.

Permit information:

Permits will be issued tomorrow through Dec. 30. Those purchasing the permits must be 18 years or older and bring photo identification. Only check and money order payment will be accepted.

Fireworks legally go on sale Dec. 26.

City & County of Honolulu

E-mail to City Desk

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