County, state fireworks proposals fizzle

Bill Carruthers of the Kiwanis addresses the Island County commissioners in a meeting about fireworks this week.

A proposed law restricting private fireworks use in parts of Island County next year got delayed yesterday at the regular Tuesday meeting of the Board of Island County Commissioners. Depending on when the ordinance is scheduled for further action, the county may have to wait until 2018 before controls on such fireworks can be imposed.

If it had passed, ordinance C-28-16 would have limited when private fireworks could be discharged in unincorporated Island County: July 3 and 5 from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., July 4 from 9 a.m. to midnight, and Dec. 31 from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Jan. 1. The law would also have let the county sheriff ban such fireworks during a Type II burn ban, characterized by “severe dry weather conditions.” Violations would have been punishable by a $250 fine.

These limits would have gone into effect a year from the date of passage, meaning they wouldn’t have applied this coming summer. State law imposes a one-year delay on the implementation of ordinances regulating fireworks.

At the state level, House Bill 2348 this past session would have eliminated the one-year delay, letting counties and other governments impose restrictions that take effect in 30 days or less, but it failed to pass.

Commissioner Jill Johnson objected that the ordinance lacked a definition of “severe dry weather conditions,” thus theoretically allowing arbitrary declarations of Type II bans that would “deprive the fireworks industry of certainty.” Commissioner Rick Hannold essentially backed up Johnson’s objections, adding that he wanted a unanimous vote on the ordinance.

The board tabled further discussion until such a definition is crafted, to the dismay of Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, who observed that Johnson and Hannold’s objections could have been raised much earlier in the county’s legislative process.

During public testimony about the law, Bill Carruthers — representing the Kiwanis, who sell fireworks each year on the island — objected that the ban “would cut into the proceeds of a nonprofit. There are always going to be fireworks out there, so why ban us?”

Jerry Farley, representing the Consumer Fireworks Safety Association — a group of fireworks-makers — argued that “prohibition is generally not a good strategy” and observed that the dates when fireworks are permissible under the law would fall on different days in different years, thus having “a deleterious effect on the industry in some years and not in others.”

Speaking in favor of the law was Sammye Kempbell of Coupeville, who exhibited an oversized necklace made entirely of fireworks-related trash she had picked up off the beach. Laura Mueller of Coupeville urged the Kiwanis to “think of another way to make money. The fireworks scare the hell out of my horses and the wildlife.”

Price Johnson observed wryly, “You’ve got one not-for-profit going out after July 4 to pick up tons of trash created by the sales activities of another not-for-profit. Dumpsters are overflowing.”

If the revised ordinance is enacted after this summer’s fireworks season, it will not serve to limit private fireworks until the summer of 2018. The state’s one-year waiting period on any fireworks restrictions caused consternation during last year’s unusually hot, dry summer. Residents were frustrated that the county couldn’t impose an immediate ban on fireworks around July 4, despite a burn ban in place.

The island’s incorporated areas have all restricted the use of personal fireworks to one day, Price Johnson said.