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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

‘The issue won’t die’: Camas officials remain split on fireworks issue

Council may hold public hearing to discuss mortar ban

By Kelly Moyer, Camas-Washougal Post-Record
Published: June 8, 2024, 6:10am

CAMAS — Love ’em or hate ’em, fireworks have again reared their divisive heads at recent Camas City Council meetings.

“We simply don’t agree on this issue,” Councilmember Marilyn Boerke said Monday, adding that the community is just as divided. “I don’t see any outcome that will be positive. Even when we vote, the issue won’t die.”

Camas officials have been debating fireworks regulations for the greater part of a decade. Officials reduced the number of days when residents can discharge personal fireworks to two — July 4 and New Year’s Eve — but refused to limit the city to “safe and sane” fireworks, as in Washougal, or ban them, as in Vancouver and Portland.

Camas, like most small cities in Clark County, allows the use and sale of all types of fireworks that are legal under state law, including reloadable mortars, Roman candles, ground spinners, sparklers, aerial mines and cone fountains.

Firecrackers, sky rockets, bottle rockets, M-60s, M-100s, altered fireworks and improvised explosive devices are illegal to purchase, possess and discharge in Washington except on Native American reservations.

Camas officials have been debating further restricting fireworks for at least seven years.

City council members have gone back and forth on the issue, finally appointing Councilors Tim Hein and John Nohr and former Councilor Don Chaney to an ad hoc fireworks committee.

In April, Hein and Nohr presented a summary of the committee’s findings and recommendations.

The panel found that in 2023, the Camas-Washougal Fire Department responded to nine fireworks-related fires and East County Fire and Rescue responded to five fireworks-related fires.

On May 20, people who sell or have sold fireworks in Camas urged officials to avoid further restrictions that would hurt businesses or the nonprofit groups that profit from fireworks sales.

“I’m sensitive to the government trying to regulate the risks I’m willing to take,” said Larry Larimer, a former Camas-Washougal firefighter. “It’s my job to be responsible for the consequences I’m willing to take.”

Larimer said his neighborhood comes together each year for an annual Fourth of July gathering that includes the discharge of personal fireworks. He believes Camas officials should not regulate fireworks any more than they already have.

“If you feel you have to limit them, let the people decide and put it to the vote,” Larimer urged council members.

Aerial shell kits

In May, despite being divided on the issue, the council agreed to look into restricting mortars and requiring fireworks vendors to distribute fireworks safety and disposal information at their stands.

The council asked City Administrator Doug Quinn to find a date for it to further discuss the fireworks issue.

Under state law, any local fireworks ordinances that are more restrictive than what the state allows do not take effect until at least one year after their adoption.

On Monday, City Attorney Shawn MacPherson brought two draft ordinances before the council — one related to the distribution of point-of-sale safety materials and the other an ordinance that would ban the discharge of mortar-type fireworks. The latter would amend the city’s definition of consumer fireworks to exclude “aerial shell kits with reloadable tubes.”

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MacPherson said the point-of-sale information ordinance was more of a directive that vendors would distribute materials.

“There is an expectation to clean up after yourselves, but we didn’t go so far as to say we’re going to issue littering tickets,” he said.

MacPherson said the second ordinance should include a public hearing, even though it would not be required by law, because of the level of public interest.

Council members Hein and Nohr said the ordinance also should have included a ban on selling aerial shell kits.

Even if the councilors were to agree to a ban, they do not have enough time to post notice of the public hearings, hold the hearings and publish the new ordinance before July 4 — meaning the ordinance could not go into effect until July 2026.

And passing the ban is far from assured.

“I am not in favor of changing the status quo,” Councilwoman Jennifer Senescu said this week.

Councilor John Svilarich disagreed and pointed out the council doesn’t have to have buy-in from every member to pass ordinances.

“We’re not going to put this off until December and wait another year. That’s what (government officials) do when they don’t want to act on something. That’s why we’re here — to make difficult decisions,” Svilarich said. “Let’s quit delaying this one, decide on it and move on.”

Hein agreed.

“It’s a hot topic, and we’ve got momentum,” Hein said Monday. “Let’s have a public hearing soon so we can make a decision.”

The council agreed to discuss and possibly adopt the fireworks safety and disposal ordinance at its June 17 meeting, but did not set a date for public hearings on any type of ban.

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