Island County commissioners may put damper on fireworks
By JUSTIN BURNETT
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
April 16, 2012 · Updated 8:10 AM
In response to a handful of citizen complaints, the Island County commissioners are taking a closer look at existing firework rules and contemplating a few new restrictions.
While no formal proposal is yet on the table, the board is looking to address a discrepancy between current county and state laws concerning the times and days they can be sold and discharged.
Local ordinances allow the discharge and sale of fireworks from noon on June 28 to noon on July 6. State rules have a similar schedule but it ends on July 5 and is slightly more restrictive with the specification of allowed hours. Generally, both sales and discharge are required to cease at various times in the evening depending on the day.
However, the board may go one step further. During the board’s work session Wednesday, Commissioner Angie Homola said fireworks complaints are a regular headache for the county and this year is no exception.
While some people want an outright ban, others have a legitimate right to want to celebrate the nation’s birthday, she said. She was optimistic a compromise could be found.
“You could have plenty of fireworks that aren’t disruptive and enjoy our nation’s birthday,” Homola said.
“I think we can find a happy medium here,” she said.
The commissioner said she would like to look at reducing the allowed time frame even further than the present state rules while also considering the existing regulations concerning the kinds of fireworks that can be sold.
But it’s not an idea that sparked popularity among local law enforcement. Island County Sheriff Mark Brown, who was asked to comment at the meeting, expressed hesitancy about regulations that go further than the state rules.
“I think there is a double-edged sword here,” Brown said.
Fireworks calls are typically centered on noise complaints rather than public safety issues, he said. As a result, they are low on the priority list for the officer-strapped department.
Limiting the days allowed and restricting the types of fireworks may result in greater public expectation for enforcement and response, he said.
Commissioner Helen Price Johnson offered that the new rules might actually lead to fewer calls to the sheriff’s office once people begin to comply with the new schedule, but Brown made it clear he had his doubts.
“You could presume everyone would not discharge fireworks during that time but would that happen?” Brown said. “I don’t know.”
“I guess you’d have to pass the law and see,” he said.
He also said there is no rush to adopt any new rules because they likely could not go into effect until 2013.
Commissioner Kelly Emerson said she would support aligning county rules with those of the state but not additional restrictions.
“I don’t see any need to go beyond that (state rules),” Emerson said.
Homola expressed wonder over some of Brown’s arguments.
“This is amazing to me,” she said.
She questioned how a smaller window of time would translate into an enforcement or response issue as officers still have to investigate the 911 calls that report illegal fireworks or discharge.
She also argued that fireworks present a very real public safety issue.
“That’s exactly what it is,” Homola said.
Island County is the sixth most densely populated county in the state, she said. People are put at risk every time they have to go out searching for lost pooches who have run away because of the noise.
“This board really has to make the decision about how we are going to respond to the public’s concerns in their communities for their peace and quiet and for the safety of their animals,” Homola said.
“I think that’s worth looking at and we can find some place in there that works for everybody,” she said.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Justin Burnett at email@example.com or 360-675-6611 ext. 5054.