Clark County stands pat on fireworks rules

Commisssioners will miss deadline for ordinance on greater restrictions

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

 

The rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air will endure next year in Clark County with no new restrictions on their sales or use.

Commissioners will not meet a deadline to decide on an ordinance that could restrict the sales and discharge of fireworks for the 2015 summer season. Under state law, the county has until June 28 to approve a new fireworks ordinance, which would go into effect next year.

With that date less than two weeks away, commissioners have missed their window to provide sufficient public notice to hold the necessary hearings on the topic.

A proposal to tighten restrictions on fireworks was approved by voters last year as part of the county’s slate of nonbinding advisory votes.

Commissioner Tom Mielke chalked up the lapse in timing, in part, to losing a county employee who specialized in fireworks.

“We had a change in personnel, so we dropped the ball on this one,” he said, referring to the resignation of Kelly Sills, the county’s former economic development director. Sills, who resigned in March, acted as the county’s point person on fireworks.

Mielke and fellow Commissioner David Madore also said they needed more time to gather information from other jurisdictions around the county to determine what their fireworks policies are and whether the cities plan on changing them in the future.

County residents approved the advisory vote on fireworks in November. Voter turnout for the election was low — only 22 percent — but 57 percent of those who participated approved of the measure. It called for limiting fireworks sales to three days, July 2-4, and their discharge to the Fourth of July. That’s the same policy Vancouver adopted last year, and which goes into effect this year.

While the delay has sparked some complaints from residents, the commissioners say it will allow them to draft an ordinance that’s equitable to the people, nonprofits and businesses that sell fireworks. Because they missed this year’s deadline, the earliest a fireworks ordinance could go into effect is 2016.

Both Madore and Mielke have said they’re wary of approving an ordinance that would punish a seller with a short selling period. A handful of nonprofits rely on the sale of fireworks, including North Clark Little league, Orchard Evergreens Lions Club and Youth Outreach.

The county has issued 41 permits this year to sell fireworks, which can go on sale starting June 28. The county’s current ordinance also allows people to discharge fireworks between June 28 and July 4, during certain times of day.

Judy Tiffany said the days-long fireworks season is a nuisance for her family. She is the caretaker of her 84-year-old mother, who has trouble sleeping through the noise of skyward-bound rockets.

“The noises are scary,” Tiffany said. “She wakes up in the middle of the night.”

She questioned why the commissioners didn’t act earlier to address the advisory vote and said she was concerned the commissioners were picking and choosing which advisory votes to follow.

The fireworks measure appeared on the same ballot as advisory votes about a number of transportation projects — an Interstate 5 replacement bridge, light rail, bus rapid transit, a proposed east county bridge over the Columbia River and a similar toll-free bridge project west of I-5. Of the six measures, the one on fireworks was the only advisory vote over which the commissioners held any authority.

Jon Dunaway, the county’s fire marshal, said his office and the sheriff’s office will to respond to complaints about fireworks set off illegally this year.

He said people who skirt the county’s current ordinance typically have their fireworks confiscated and receive a warning. In some rare instances, they are cited, he said.