If adopted, the new restrictions would take effect in July of 2022
VANCOUVER — Clark County Council is set to discuss a possible change to the types of fireworks that can be sold and used in the unincorporated areas of the county.
At a work session held Wednesday, a divided council decided 3-2 in favor of moving ahead to a public hearing on the proposed change, which would limit use and sale of fireworks to those labeled “safe and sane.”
If adopted, the rule would make fireworks that fly more than a foot in the air, or more than six feet along the ground illegal to sell or use in the county.
The earliest any change in the rules could go into effect would be July of 2022.
Councilors Julie Olson, John Blom, and Temple Lentz supported holding a public hearing to discuss the rule change. Councilor Gary Medvigy and Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien indicated they would prefer to wait longer before bringing up the topic.
The most recent change to fireworks regulations in Clark County, which took effect in 2019, restricted their use to July 4 only throughout the unincorporated areas.
John Young, fire prevention captain for the Clark County Fire Marshal’s office, said there were 19 citations issued in 2019 for illegal fireworks use.
No citations were issued in 2020, though 56 warnings were handed out. Young said that was a conscious decision due to the strong “anti-police sentiment” this past summer following the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“The other thing that we noticed this year, the number of calls after midnight were less than years before,” said Young. “It’s like everybody shot off everything and were done.”
Young also noted that the vast majority of noise complaint calls before or after the holiday came in the areas bordering the city of Vancouver, which has had a complete ban on fireworks use since 2016.
Permit fees for fireworks stands and tents brought in $9,572, said Young, against a cost of around $10,000 for enforcement.
In urging his fellow council members to hold off on considering any further restrictions for now, Councilor Medvigy noted the “extraordinary time” that people are living through during the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the cancellation of many traditional fireworks shows around the region.
“We need more time to let the public adjust,” said Medvigy. “This year was kind of a wash because of the pandemic.”
Quiring O’Brien agreed.
“We need time to allow this new ordinance and our new way of dealing with fireworks in unincorporated Clark County to actually settle in,” she said, “for people to be able to realize what the new rules are.”
“I don’t think that’s a reasonable argument,” responded Olson, noting that the only change was adjusting use of the fireworks to a single day. “We still sell them from June 28 to July 4. When you look at the last three years of just noise complaints, they’ve got consistently every single year.”
According to the Fire Marshal’s office, noise complaints peaked in 2017 with 555, the second year Vancouver’s full fireworks ban was in effect. They dropped to 305 in 2018, then rose to 325 in 2019, and 404 this year. Most of those came on July 3.
“We have not talked about the impact with these types of mortars and airborne fireworks in urban areas on our senior citizens,” Olson added. “We have pets and animals drugged and in closets because of the noise from these fireworks.”
Chief among those sure to oppose any new rules will be area nonprofits. Many raise the bulk of their annual revenue from the sale of fireworks around the county.
The Hazel Dell Lions Club, for instance, said in 2018 that 80 percent of its yearly budget comes from the sale of fireworks.
Olson said she isn’t convinced those groups couldn’t find other ways of raising money.
“It’ll take work, but they’ll have some time,” said Olson. “I think we could offer a full ban, which is what a lot of my constituents like, but this is a compromise.”
The three councilors who spoke in favor of discussing the Safe and Sane restrictions noted that nonprofits would have 12 to 18 months before the new rules went into effect.
“I would hope, too, that nonprofits that are relying on selling small munitions can find other ways to raise money,” added Councilor Lentz.
The council has received a deluge of emails from constituents since the work session on fireworks was posted, the majority of which have been in favor of implementing further restrictions.
“I was really hopeful that the changes that we made would reduce the number of calls and frustrated constituents, but it hasn’t,” said Councilor Blom. “It’s gone up every year, even within the city and from the constituents that are in my district inside the city limits.”
Any change in the rules is also likely to benefit nearby Native American tribes, such as the Cowlitz. As sovereign nations, restrictions on the types of fireworks they can sell would not apply.
However, anyone caught using the illegal fireworks in the county could still face fines and likely have them confiscated said Young.
A public hearing on the proposed rule change was tentatively scheduled for the Dec. 1 council meeting, which would be on a Tuesday at 6 p.m. Barring amendments to current COVID restrictions, the meeting would be held virtually, with public comment invited in advance, either online, or via letter submitted to:
Clark County Council, c/o Rebecca Messinger
PO Box 5000