The shorter window to purchase and use fireworks will take effect starting in July of 2019
BATTLE GROUND — NOTE: This article has been updated to reflect new information about the ordinance that allows the Fire Marshal to issue a fireworks ban in years when the fire danger is deemed to be extreme.
A divided city council passed a pair of laws on Monday night that will place new restrictions on the usage of fireworks in Battle Ground starting in 2019.
The first new law, approved by a vote of 4 to 3, will give the city’s fire marshal the ability to ban fireworks entirely during years in which the fire danger is deemed to be “extreme.” According to Fire Marshal Chris Drone, an emergency ban on fireworks usage would happen only in years with extended periods without rain, and low fuel moisture, or else high and erratic winds that could create a hazard of fires spreading quickly. Any decision made would require the evaluation of fire risk using all available data including, but not limited to: The United States National Weather Service, the United States Forest Service, local forecasts, and communication with neighboring cities and fire districts. A ban would impact only the usage of fireworks, and not sales. The ordinance did not give any guidance about how soon before the holiday an emergency ban would have to be implemented.
Either way, Council Member Philip Johnson was strongly opposed to the ordinance.
“The people elected us. We should be held responsible for any vote to either suspend, ban, whatever it may be, and not pass that off to Mr. Drone (Battle Ground Fire Marshal Chris Drone) in this case, or whoever comes behind him,” said Johnson, “It should be the people’s representatives to make that decision, and if we’re not willing to do that and we pass it off, then we probably should look for another line of work because that’s why they sent us here.”
The council also voted 4 to 3 to limit the number of days that fireworks can be purchased and used in Battle Ground. Starting in 2019 fireworks can only be sold from July 1-4, and used only on the 3rd and 4th. Sales and usage around the New Years holiday remain unchanged. Prior to this Battle Ground was one of only a handful of municipalities in the state to have no restrictions beyond state laws.
“I don’t think it’s a win either way,” said Deputy Mayor Shane Bowman, “but I think it’s a move in the right direction of allowing people to still do what they want to do, as far as lighting off fireworks and celebrating the Fourth of July, but it doesn’t allow them to celebrate the 30th of June. Because nothing special happened the 30th of June, that I know of, at least.”
“I couldn’t say it enough before, this is something I think should have went through the will of the people,” said Council Member Brian Munson, who voted no on both measures. “If we’re going to put an ordinance out there that we cannot enforce … I don’t get it.”
The enforcement aspect was also brought up by Johnson, who argued that the reduced number of days would lead to more complaints, while police and fire can’t cite someone for using fireworks illegally unless they’re actually caught in the act.
“It just doesn’t hit me as something that’s enforceable,” Johnson argued, “and 10 percent of the people who normally cause the problems will tick the other 90 percent off against them, and against us as well — the city as a whole.”
But fellow Council Member Adrian Cortez, who admitted having a difficult time with the vote, argued that not passing laws because some people might break them is illogical.
“Yes, we’re going to have some citizens who don’t comply,” he said. “But we have citizens who don’t comply with speeding, we have citizens who don’t comply with a lot of things. That doesn’t mean you don’t pass speeding laws, or any other law that we have in our city.”
The city had conducted an online poll last month, which showed 69 percent of respondents either “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about the dangers or inconvenience of fireworks use. The majority of people in the survey, 37 percent, recommended that the city ban fireworks altogether, while 20 percent voted for restricting the days they could be used.
“I always go back to this: your right to celebrate independence in America is on July 4th,” added Bowman, who said he’s taken to leaving the city on the holiday due to the noise. “I don’t start celebrating New Years on Christmas and then end it the day after New Years.”
The council will still need to work out exactly what kinds of penalties could be involved in violating the city’s new fireworks restrictions. Those would take effect within thirty days of the rules being adopted.