What's Up with That? Officials: Clean up your own fireworks debris

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

In the aftermath of the Independence Day fireworks, my street looks like a war zone. Who is required to pick up the toxic litter? Can code enforcement, or somebody, get involved?

— Several readers

Wowee, this year was boomier than ever, wasn't it? This reporter — who lives in the unincorporated county — didn't need to leave the yard to watch an impressive overhead display. Meanwhile, a freaked-out friend from Portland ducked for cover and couldn't believe we tolerate this madness.

We called Vancouver code enforcement about the madness' leftovers and heard, because the issue is public streets, the problem really belongs to public works.

We called both city and county public works and heard what we figured we'd hear: faith that most citizens graduated from kindergarten, where they learned to clean up after themselves.

"The City of Vancouver asks all residents to be responsible and good neighbors by cleaning up and disposing of their own fireworks litter," said spokeswoman Brooke Porter. "They should not be left in the street for sweepers, nor should they be left in rights-of-way."

"The county's expectation is that people will take personal responsibility when they use personal fireworks," said county public works spokesman Jeffrey Mize. That doesn't just mean using legal fireworks during the legal window in a safe and legal manner, he said — it also means "cleaning up the mess once they're done."

Street sweepers are not available for special post-Independence Day rounds, Porter and Mize both said. And if you think about it, deploying them to do microsweeps of specific spots, based on residents' complaints, probably would add up to a megasweep of the entire county. Which is what they do already — bit by bit.

The city sends its sweepers around, neighborhood by neighborhood, all year long. It sweeps main streets around Fort Vancouver, which hosts the big annual public fireworks show, on the night of July 5. Then comes the regular schedule of neighborhood sweeps (last week it was Ogden, Van Mall, Fruit Valley, Mountain View and Cascade Highlands; this week it's Northwest, Lincoln, Old Evergreen Highway, Rivercrest, Biddle, Riverview, Wildwood and Riveridge). Vancouver's street sweeping schedule is posted online each week at http://www.cityofvancouver.us/streetmaint.asp?menuid=10465&submenuid=17041.

In the county, Mize said, budget cuts mean less sweeping than there used to be — with almost none during summer, when there's less debris than during wet and windy seasons. But even when sweeping was year-round, he said, the county didn't take special fireworks sweeping requests.

Interestingly, Mize added this: If you value a clean street, the morning of July 5 was indeed cause for rage. But if you waited another day or two, most folks got around to cleaning up most of that pyrotechnic trash.

Finally, Mize pointed out, fireworks residue that becomes street runoff is even more damaging to lakes, rivers and streams than regular household litter. "So we really encourage folks to get out there and clean up their own fireworks litter," he said.