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Island County commissioners may put damper on fireworks use

In response to a handful of citizen complaints, 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 June 28 to noon July 6. State rules are similar but end July 5 and are slightly more restrictive regarding allowed hours. Generally, both sales and discharge are required to cease at various times in the evening depending on the day.

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.

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 further than the present state rules while also considering the kinds of fireworks that can be sold.

But, it’s not an idea that sparked popularity among 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 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 had his doubts.

“You could presume everyone would not discharge fireworks during that time but would that happen?” Brown said. “I don’t know.”

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.

Homola expressed wonder over some of Brown’s arguments. She questioned how a smaller window of time would translate into an issue as officers still have to investigate the 911 calls that report illegal fireworks or discharge.

She said fireworks present a public safety issue as people have to search for dogs that ran away due to 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.

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