Clark County revelers will have to scale back their Fourth of July celebrations next year, as the county council voted to limit the discharge of fireworks to the holiday only.
After nearly 2 1/2 hours of public testimony and discussion, the Clark County Council voted 3-to-2 Tuesday to allow residents in all unincorporated areas to shoot off fireworks only from 9 a.m. to midnight on July 4. The policy also eliminates Clark County’s two-tiered fireworks law, whereby people in areas north of 219th Street were allowed to shoot off fireworks a week before the holiday. People may also use fireworks from 6 p.m. Dec. 31 until 1 a.m. Jan. 1.
Councilors Jeanne Stewart and Eileen Quiring, both Republicans, cast the dissenting votes. Stewart’s district is mostly made up of incorporated Vancouver, where fireworks were banned outright as of October 2016. Quiring’s district, which is geographically the largest, covers the largely rural parts to the east and north of Clark County.
The council also voted 4-to-1 to allow fireworks sales for a full seven days beginning June 28 and running through the holiday. Councilor Julie Olson, also a Republican, was the only “no” vote. Olson noted she had a personal interest in the topic after her home outside of Ridgefield suffered heavy damage when a neighbor’s firework got caught in nearby arborvitaes.
“I didn’t begrudge my neighbors for doing it,” she said. “They’re polite. They clean up their garbage. They’re very, very dear friends of mine. But none of that matters when you have explosive aerial fireworks that go up into the air, that you can’t control, and they’re on fire when they land.”
In Washington, fireworks laws don’t take effect until one full calendar year after they’re approved, meaning the sale and discharge policies for this year’s holiday will remain unchanged.
The council also adopted the following changes to its fireworks policies:
• The county will charge a $156 tent permit fee on top of a $100 fee for fireworks vendors who use tents for their sale locations.
• Those using fireworks illegally face a fine of $500 for their first infraction and $1,000 for subsequent infractions.
• The Clark County Council chair, after consulting with the fire marshal, can ban fireworks outright in cases of “extreme fire danger.”
The council also discussed allowing only so-called “Safe and Sane” fireworks, banning the sale and use of “firecrackers, salutes, chasers, sky rockets and missile-type rockets and mortar-type” fireworks.
That idea, however, fizzled out, failing 4-to-1 with Olson casting the single “yes” vote.
Tuesday’s decision comes after two days of largely civil public comment, pitting familiar arguments against each other. While some touted shooting fireworks as an opportunity for their families to come together for a patriotic cause, others testified about the danger and stress caused by fireworks. They shared worry about the potential fire danger, the mess left behind, and loud noises that can be upsetting to animals, children or combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“This is about public health, safety, welfare, cost to all and quality of life in our communities, and mutual respect,” said Milada Allen, president of the Felida Neighborhood Association.
Fireworks vendors also appeared in force at Tuesday’s meeting, urging the county not to limit sale days or the types of fireworks sold. They touted the sales tax revenue, funds raised for nonprofit organizations and wages paid to their employees.
Beau Leach, operator of TNT Fireworks Warehouse, took a unique approach. He said that if Clark County wants to entice Oregonians to drive to this side of the river and spend money, the council shouldn’t limit sale days, noting “the modern family is a very busy family.” Most fireworks are illegal in Oregon, except those deemed “Safe and Sane.”
Following the meeting, Leach said he felt the council grasped that idea, saying Oregonians bring their money into the state, then take the noise and mess associated with fireworks outside of the state.
He also said Tuesday’s decision was a fair compromise.
“We needed to seriously compromise to keep from going out of business,” Leach said.