Vancouver to limit fireworks to one day starting in 2014

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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The Vancouver City Council unanimously voted Monday to limit personal fireworks use to the Fourth of July and limit sales to three days.

The ordinance will take effect in 2014, said Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, leaving people time to adjust to the "new normal."

Currently, the city allows fireworks to be sold for seven days, June 28 to July 4, and discharged for four days, July 1-4.

Vancouver is the largest city in the state that still allows personal fireworks.

More than 80 people attended the hearing at Vancouver City Hall.

Of the 37 people who spoke, 16 were in favor of the ordinance and 21 were against.

"We recognize that it's a hot topic," Leavitt said, noting the council has had more hearings on fireworks this year than on the most important issue, the city budget.

"Let's continue to celebrate safe and respectfully," Leavitt said.

The city will put $10,000 in the 2013-14 budget and $10,000 in the 2015-16 budget for increased education and enforcement.

The shortened fireworks season will put the city at even greater odds with what's allowed in unincorporated Clark County, which includes parts of Vancouver's urban growth boundary such as Hazel Dell and Salmon Creek.

In unincorporated Clark County, fireworks can be sold and discharged from June 28 to July 4.

County commissioners have zero interest in revisiting that code, Chairman Marc Boldt confirmed this past week.

Washougal is the only local city that limits fireworks to July 4.

Earlier this year, the Vancouver City Council considered banning all but "safe and sane" fireworks, but that proposal was unanimously rejected following a public hearing.

On Monday, Elson Strahan, president of the Fort Vancouver National Trust, said the trust has eight licenses to sell fireworks within the city limits. Those profits, coupled with admission revenues, pay for the Fort Vancouver Fourth of July show.

He's mindful of the public safety concerns and residents' concerns about noise and mess with personal fireworks, but said the ordinance would hurt the trust in two ways. The shortened sales season would likely drive people to buy from other stands, and people may skip going to the Fort in favor of a family celebration.

"We have no crystal ball," Strahan said, "so this is not a prediction. It is a possible outcome."

Vancouver resident David Hentz questioned how the Fourth of July has morphed into a four-day holiday. He said shortening the season was a good compromise between an outright ban and the current code.

Several members of the Vancouver Elks attended the hearing and said they raise $36,000 a year selling fireworks. Profits support youth organizations, they said, and they don't know how they will make up the difference with what they will lose because of the shortened season.

Councilor Bart Hansen said he worked at a fireworks booth to raise money for his son's swim team. He said he knows the shortened season will probably mean he'll have to pay more money for his son to participate.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.