Fireworks concerns already setting off sparks in county

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Lemitar resident Dan Brandes wasn’t happy last year when the combination of drought and fireworks made for a tense Fourth of July season. So this year, he decided not to wait until summer to speak up.

Brandes addressed the Socorro County Board of Commissioners on March 27 asking the commissioners to impose fireworks restrictions before it’s too late.

Brandes’ biggest concern is that the laws governing the sale and use of illegal fireworks aren’t being enforced. He said he’s thought of calling the Department of Homeland Security because some of the fireworks he’s seen and heard people set off fall under the category of high explosives and are illegal for sale, and he couldn’t get local law enforcement to do anything about it.

“Last year, I called the sheriff’s department, and they did absolutely nothing,” Brandes said. “They just looked the other way.”

Brandes said he’s observed people on either side of his property shooting off fireworks “almost as big as what they shoot off at EMRTC,” that go at least 200 feet in the air.

“They’re not supposed to sell them that big,” he said.

Although local fireworks vendors are prohibited from selling fireworks of that size, Brandes said he was actually able to purchase two from stands set up within Socorro city limits last summer, in the course of doing a little investigating.

“I told them I wanted something bigger,” he said. “They didn’t have them on hand, but they had them the next day. I paid them $65 each for two of them, and came back the next day and they had them there for me.”

Emergency Services Administrator and County Fire Marshall Fred Hollis said if certain conditions exist and a resolution is passed a certain number of days in advance, the county can ban certain kinds of fireworks.

In 2011, several counties and municipalities passed resolutions restricting the sale and use of missile-type rockets, helicopters, aerial spinners, stick-type rockets and ground audible devices, pursuant to New Mexico’s statute 60-2C-8.1 addressing extreme or severe drought conditions.

The use of other normally permissible forms of fireworks, such as sparklers and ground spinners, was restricted to paved or barren areas with a readily accessible water source.

According to the statute, any proclamation restricting the sale and use of fireworks due to an extreme or severe drought condition has to be issued at least 20 days before any holiday for which fireworks may be sold. It can be in effect for only 30 days, but the local government can issue succeeding proclamations if high risk conditions persist.

The county can also rescind or amend the proclamation within the 30 day period by holding an emergency hearing to determine if weather conditions have improved.

Socorro County Manager Delilah Walsh said if illegal fireworks are being set off, law enforcement should be involved.

“If people are in violation, there needs to be an investigation,” Walsh said.

One of the things Brandes is unhappy about is damage caused to his property last year when a big firework came down over his garage.

“The insurance company won’t pay for the burn spots on my roof and car because the police won’t fill out a report,” he said.

County Commissioner Danny Monette said he would help Brandes get that taken care of.

Ankle Bracelets

The county manager also asked the commission to look ahead to the near future, and proposed a way to reduce the amount of money in the budget dedicated to housing inmates in the Socorro County Detention Center and at facilities outside the county.

Walsh’s idea is to reduce the cost of the ankle bracelet electronic monitoring program.

“We’re spending $360,000 to house inmates,” Walsh said. “If we could lower (the ankle bracelet fee) to $25, we would be able to lower our (inmate) population.”

Currently, if permitted by the judge, inmates can choose to pay $300 per month to wear a device around one ankle that monitors their comings and goings, and transmits that information minute by minute to detention center staff, instead of being incarcerated.

Walsh said she estimated the cost of having the county absorb more of the cost of electronic monitoring, which would make it more affordable for inmates, to be around $64,000 per year. Compared to the cost of housing inmates, it would represent a substantial savings.

If the county commission approves the measure, Walsh said she’d meet with the judges immediately.

“It sounds like a good solution to the endless pit we have at the jail,” Monette said.

The matter will be on the next meeting’s agenda for a vote. District III Commissioner Phillip Anaya said he’d like the detention center director, Evangel Maldonado, to attend the meeting to answer questions and give his opinion.

In Other Business

  • The commissioners approved two mutual aid agreements on fire fighting and emergency response, one between the city of Belen and Socorro County, and the other between Valencia County and Socorro County.

Abeytas Volunteer Fire Chief Kelly Voris said the area’s fire departments have already been working together informally, and the mutual assistance agreements are just a way to formalize the relationship.

  • The commissioners approved a report detailing every mile of paved, graveled and dirt roadway maintained by the county — totaling 1,301.33 miles in all — submitted by Socorro County Road Superintendent Marty Greenwood.
  • The county manager shared a letter from the New Mexico Area Agency on Aging to Senior Center Director Lewis Auerbach, informing him that Socorro County’s bid to run the senior centers had been accepted. The contract is for four years, from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2016.

 


-- Email the author at sbarteau@dchieftain.com.

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