By MIKE DONOGHUE
The operator of a new fireworks store in Colchester has pleaded not guilty in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington for illegally selling fireworks.
A lawyer for Bronwyn Proffitt-Higgins of Stowe said she believes her client has done nothing wrong.
Green Mountain Fireworks began opening a store on Macrae Road in Malletts Bay in late April after operating out of large tents in St. Albans in 2016 and in Milton in 2017, court records show.
Colchester Police Chief Jennifer Morrison said her officers have responded to 16 calls about fireworks between May 1 and June 4 this year, compared to six cases during the same time period in 2017. She said that mirrors the problems reported by police chiefs in both St. Albans and Milton when the same company operated in those communities.
Burlington lawyer Lisa Shelkrot said Proffitt-Higgins acted within the law, that her client has all the proper permits and wants the case thrown out.
Morrison’s sworn court affidavit says Proffitt-Higgins did not have the proper permits. She wrote that Green Mountain Fireworks is owned by Matthew Lavigne, 41, and his wife, Proffitt-Higgins, operates the Colchester store.
Morrison said the company has one permit from the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that covers “Class 1.3G Fireworks” for major displays, like at July 4th events for town celebrations.
However, the items purchased by Colchester Police Detective Jeremy Wyskiel – who entered the store in plainclothes on May 25 – included “Class 1.4G” fireworks, which are not covered by a permit for over-the-counter purchases, Morrison wrote.
Morrison said selling and possessing consumer fireworks has been illegal in Vermont since at least 1990 when she became a police officer. A building permit and a certificate of occupancy from the town do not constitute the proper permit required for fireworks, she said.
“Planning and zoning does not regulate what businesses can sell. Mr. Lavigne and Ms. Proffitt-Higgins have been advised that these permits do not constitute a municipal permit to sell fireworks,” the chief wrote.
Morrison’s affidavit says the town, police department and business owner have exchanged “numerous emails” showing officials have repeatedly told the business it is operating illegally.
Town manager Aaron Frank had a letter hand-delivered to Proffitt-Higgins and sent by certified mail to Lavigne restating the town has not issued any permit that would satisfy state law.
In court Friday, Shelkrot attempted to have the case dismissed for lack of probable cause on Friday, but acting Judge Paul Jarvis believed there was enough to start the prosecution. He said it was possible he would consider a motion to dismiss after both sides prepared legal arguments.
Jarvis urged both sides to come up with agreed facts on the case by this Wednesday, and if it’s not resolved, to return to court date on June 19 at 2 p.m. Jarvis said he would not issue an order blocking sales, but also noted sales would be “at [Proffitt-Higgins’] own risk.”
Proffitt-Higgins and Lavigne said nothing as they left court on Friday.
Shelkrot said she wants to move the case along quickly because this is primetime for the business to sell products.
A subsequent post on Facebook by Green Mountain Fireworks said, “We are still open, just not releasing inventory until after we finish up in court.”
Lavigne started a GoFundMe page seeking $10,000 to help pay for the business’ legal costs. By Sunday night, he’d raised $1,025 from six people.
In court documents, Morrison said police still haven’t fully identified the woman operating the store. She “failed to report to the Colchester Police Department as agreed upon to be processed,” Morrison’s affidavit says. The chief said the only identification was verbally and by email.
Colchester Sgt. Mike Fish visited the store in uniform on May 7 and chatted with the woman claiming to be Proffitt-Higgins. He told her she was violating the law and anybody buying or possessing fireworks was also in violation.
Fish said the woman indicated the business was “hoping to get that resolved through the legislature,” Morrison wrote. Fish said until the change is made, it was still illegal, Morrison noted.