The Clark County Council appears set to overturn a controversial fireworks ordinance passed just over a month ago.
The council will hold a public hearing Feb. 2 to consider repealing the ordinance that banned all but Class C fireworks. Commonly known as “safe and sane” fireworks, they’re defined as those that travel no more than 1 foot into the air or no more than 6 feet on the ground.
It was passed by a 3-2 margin on Dec. 1. It wouldn’t take effect for a full year after that date and doesn’t apply to fireworks shows such as those at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site or the Clark County Events Center at the Fairgrounds.
As COVID-19 restrictions limit in-person public comment, county residents had submitted about 230 written comments ahead of the ordinance’s passage. Roughly 63 percent of them opposed the restrictions, according to Interim County Manager Kathleen Otto.
Since then, residents have circulated a referendum petition to overturn the new rules.
Then-Councilor John Blom voted in favor of the new rules in December, along with Councilors Julie Olson and Temple Lentz. But Councilor Karen Bowerman, who now represents Blom’s former district, voted with Councilor Gary Medvigy and Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien last week to hold the upcoming hearing.
“With the majority of the council not actually wanting to make this more restrictive, I think it’s incumbent on us to undo what was done in December,” Quiring O’Brien said at a council time meeting Wednesday.
Olson and Lentz argued that the council could wait for the outcome of the petition process. They also noted that they would have supported placing the issue before voters as an initiative on an upcoming ballot but found they didn’t have that ability.
“There’s an opportunity here to potentially meet both ends here of wanting to hear from the people,” Lentz said.
But councilors who voted to hold the hearing reiterated previous concerns. Those concerns included the lack of a full public comment process before the ordinance passed and the fact the council had already voted a couple of years ago to limit the time window in which fireworks can be used in unincorporated areas.
“To move forward with the ordinance as the council did at a time when the public really only could participate by sending an email in, I thought, really eroded our democratic processes,” Medvigy said. “Let’s get back to the status quo, and then if (a member of the public) wants to bring an initiative, they can do so.”
The Clark County Fire Marshal’s Office receives hundreds of fireworks noise complaints annually around the Fourth of July holiday, Fire Marshal Dan Young told the council last year. Last summer, the office responded to five blazes caused by fireworks, including two house fires — causing about $40,000 worth of damage — one vehicle fire, a dumpster fire and a brush fire, Young said.
On New Year’s Eve, an unidentified person was seriously injured by fireworks in north Clark County, according to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. Young said his office responded to 47 fireworks-related noise complaints.
Councilors have held numerous discussions about fireworks in recent years.
Olson, who represents District 2, which covers the northwest portion of the county and includes the cities of Ridgefield and La Center, previously said it’s the No. 1 issue she hears from constituents. Concerns have typically revolved around how fireworks can disturb veterans, senior citizens and animals.
Medvigy, who represents rural District 4 on the east side of the county, and Quiring O’Brien, who previously represented the district, have been against considering the ordinance. Bowerman’s approval of scheduling the hearing marks the first noteworthy decision by what is expected to be a more conservative majority on the council.
The meeting will be available on CVTV and cvtv.org or by dialing 408-418-9388, access code 146-269-6857. Written testimony can be submitted ahead of the hearing to https://clark.wa.gov/councilors/clark-county-council-meetings.