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Sunday, March 3, 2024
March 3, 2024

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Group launches fireworks petition drive in Clark County

Drive would put allow voters, not elected officials, to decide county's policy

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter

The grappling over fireworks restrictions in Clark County may not have reached its grand finale. A group of activists has launched a petition drive to allow voters to decide the future of the county’s fireworks rules.

The Clark County Council in December approved an ordinance that limited the types of fireworks that could be bought and sold in unincorporated areas, including suburban areas such as Hazel Dell, Felida and Salmon Creek. That prompted an outcry from fireworks lovers. Then, in February, a newly constituted council voted to repeal the December ordinance.

Now a group of residents has been granted a request to circulate a petition that would allow voters to decide whether to allow the possession, use and sale of fireworks traveling more than one foot in the air, or further than six feet on the ground in unincorporated Clark County. Petition organizers can now collect signatures to place the issue on a future public ballot.

“A lot of people want the right to vote on this – across the spectrum,” said Wendy Cleveland, one of the petition organizers.

The county charter gives citizens the ability to petition and repeal an action taken by the council.

To launch the effort, residents gathered 118 signatures from registered voters within 10 days of the Feb. 2 decision. The county Auditor’s Office later in the month validated at least 100 signatures.

The original ordinance, passed Dec. 1 in a 3-2 vote, banned all but Class C, commonly known as “safe and sane,” fireworks. Legal fireworks under the restrictions would have included those that travel no more than one foot into the air or spray sparks no more than six feet above the ground.

The ordinance would have taken effect a full year after its passage and wouldn’t have applied to professional fireworks shows such as those at Fort Vancouver National Site or the Clark County Events Center at the Fairgrounds.

Following the council’s December decision, residents who opposed the restrictions launched a petition of their own to place the matter on a ballot. But the Feb. 2 vote overturned the original ordinance. Between the two votes, newly elected Councilor Karen Bowerman replaced John Blom, flipping the 3-2 majority.

Several iterations of county government have discussed fireworks laws over the past several decades. Prior to the Fourth of July holiday in 2019, the county restricted the dates and times in which they can be sold and used.

The most recent decisions drew hundreds of public comments from those who supported and those who opposed the restrictions.

The comments hit familiar points. On one side: safety hazards, waste and negative effects from noise for certain residents and pets. On the other side: limits to personal freedoms, particularly for those who use them to celebrate U.S. independence, and potential harms to local businesses and community groups that sell fireworks.

Organizers now have until June 23 – 120 days since the certification – to collect 27,702 signatures from registered county voters – 10 percent of the total votes cast in the county in the last gubernatorial election. To qualify for this year’s general election ballot on Nov. 2, the group will need to gather the signatures and submit them to the auditor’s office by June 5.

If enough signatures are collected and certified, the issue will appear on an upcoming general election ballot.

Cleveland said that the group has teams “out all over the county” gathering signatures.

“I’m actually very optimistic,” she said.

Additional information can be found at https://sites.google.com/view/clark-repeal-referendum/.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter