A 1997 civil settlement allows Safety 4th Fireworks to relocate anywhere.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A prominent local fireworks manufacturer has testified that the relocation of a competitor into Mahoning or Columbiana counties could lead to a dramatic loss of his business.
But the competitor said he has no plans to move into the area.
Bruce Zoldan, president and CEO of B.J. Alan Co. in Youngstown and B.J. Alan Fireworks Co. Inc. in Beaver Township, appeared in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court on Friday in an effort to prevent competing Safety 4th Fireworks from transferring the location of three fireworks licenses the company holds in Carroll and Harrison counties.
Current state law, passed in 1997, prevents the relocation of licenses to a different municipality.
Sam Abdalla, president of Safety 4th, said he was granted the license transfers before the current law went into effect and now has the option of moving his fireworks stores anywhere in the state. He testified Friday that he has no firm plans on moving, but said it would not likely be near a B.J. Alan site.
B.J. Alan lawyers say the state fire marshal erred when granting the transfers and have asked for a preliminary injunction preventing the relocations.
"The result of transferring these licenses is the death of these businesses," said B.J. Alan attorney T. Earl LeVere.
Magistrate Gene Fehr said he would give Abdalla's lawyer, Thomas Zena, seven days to file written arguments in the case. Zena was first brought into the case Friday.
Zoldan testified that competition could force him to lay off employees, which number about 200 year-round and up to 500 just before July Fourth.
He testified that he had never made any requests for similar transfers. State fire marshal practices and policies made it clear transfers would not be granted long before the 1997 law went into effect.
"I'd be happy to compete with Mr. Abdalla on a level playing field," Zoldan said. "But if he's less restricted than I am, obviously that's not a level playing field."
An issue in the matter is the legality of a 1997 civil settlement in Jefferson County court. Abdalla had sued the state fire marshal when his requests to transfer the licenses were at first denied, lawyers said. The suit was settled to allow Abdalla the transfers.
Assistant Attorney General Hillary R. Damaser, representing the state fire marshal, said the fire marshal had the authority to transfer the license prior to the 1997 law.
Abdalla submitted a four-page, handwritten request for the license transfers in 1997. He has not proceeded further with plans.
Dave Schroeder of the state fire marshal's office said Abdalla would have to close existing facilities before a license transfer would take place.
Damaser said B.J. Alan lawyers were aware of the Jefferson County ruling and failed to appeal it at that time.