Divided Clark County Council approves new fireworks restrictions

The 3-2 decision will mean flying fireworks are no longer allowed starting Dec. 31, 2021

CLARK COUNTY — A divided Clark County Council on Tuesday approved new restrictions on what types of fireworks can be sold or used in the unincorporated areas.

The new law will prohibit fireworks that explode, fly more than a foot into the air, or travel more than six feet along the ground.

The TNT Fireworks tent along I-5 may look much different in 2022 after new restrictions go into effect. Photo by Jacob Granneman
The TNT Fireworks tent along I-5 may look much different in 2022 after new restrictions go into effect. Photo by Jacob Granneman

State law provides at least a one-year buffer before any new fireworks rules can be enacted, so the Safe and Sane fireworks restrictions for unincorporated Clark County won’t be in place until Dec. 31 of 2021, and July 4 of 2022.

Community events, such the Fort Vancouver fireworks show, Fourth at the Fairgrounds, and other city-sponsored celebrations, will still be able to use the banned fireworks so long as they have a permit.

Following a work session on the proposed rule change in October, the county received more than 230 public comments. Around 63 percent of those were in opposition to the change, said Interim County Manager Kathleen Otto.

Rather than read all of those into the public record, staff selected 12 comments against the change, and eight in favor as a representative sample.

Jeff Fish, chairman of the Hazel Dell Lions Club said they’ve had a permit to sell fireworks since 1965, and it has consistently been their biggest fundraiser.

“My concern is if Clark County goes to safe and sane fireworks, it would greatly reduce the principal fundraiser for the club,” Fish wrote to the council.

A similar concern was raised by Raymond Woodson, Sr., pastor of the Vancouver United Pentacostal Church.

“Efforts pursued prior to firework sales by our church to fundraise through a variety of methods resulted in minute profits comparatively,” Woodson wrote, “and benefits to others were likewise little to none comparatively.”

Others focused more on what they viewed as the erosion of freedoms and rights enjoyed in a holiday most known for American independence.

“I personally would much rather have my property taxes raised to support local fire and police departments to be better equipped to deal with the unfortunate side effects of irresponsible Fourth of July celebrations,” wrote Dustin Allen. “Much more so than destroying the best holiday in our society by eliminating essentially the most spectacular fireworks.”

Fireworks like these at the Blackjack store near I-5 in Hazel Dell will no longer be legal for private use in unincorporated Clark County starting in 2022. File photo
Fireworks like these at the Blackjack store near I-5 in Hazel Dell will no longer be legal for private use in unincorporated Clark County starting in 2022. File photo

Those who supported the new rules focused primarily on the dangers fireworks present, or the noise they generate.

“We’re not against all fireworks but the rockets and mortars that shake our house and rattle our windows must be prohibited,” wrote Christopher and Kelly Vinther.

“While people enjoy them, they have caused fires several times near our home,” added Donna Elliott. “I always fear they will land on my roof or porch and wreck (sic) havoc.”

Gary Fields said he and his family have taken to staying in a hotel in Oregon during the Fourth of July holiday due to the noise of their neighbor’s celebrations.

“Why must a small group of irresponsible people control our health, sanity and lives every year?” he asked. “It is your responsibility to keep us safe, protect the environment and to enact laws that help us lead a better life.”

Clark County Fire Marshal Dan Young said his department had received an average of 390 noise complaints per year since 2015, with 404 this past July.

Councilor Julie Olson, a primary driver of the rule change, said she had been told by Kris DeVore of the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency (CRESA) that there had actually been 1,261 noise complaints countywide this year, including 681 in the city of Vancouver.

New restrictions on fireworks were last approved in 2019, limiting their usage to July 4 only county-wide. That law went into effect this year.

“In the grand scheme of things, there’s been a lot of change in the last few years,” said Councilor Gary Medvigy in urging the rest of the council to delay considering any new restrictions. “We haven’t had enough time for the public to adjust, the public to become educated since the major changes in 2018.”

Medvigy was joined in voting no by Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien, who echoed the sentiment that people already facing perceived intrusions on their freedoms during the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t want to see further restrictions on fireworks this year.

“I don’t think that we should be entertaining this ordinance once again,” she said. “It’s too soon.”

Others said they felt the new limitation to “safe and sane” fireworks would only make enforcement more difficult, since the Cowlitz Tribe could choose to sell those kinds of fireworks on their reservation, making them easy to obtain.

“They’re a sovereign nation, and they can do what they like,” said O’Brien.

Olson admitted the tribe could do what they like but, for now, “they don’t sell fireworks there (at ilani).”

Olson said fireworks complaints have been, by far, the number one subject she has heard about from constituents since joining the council in 2016.

After reading through all of the public feedback about the new rules, she said it appeared most people were concerned about how they would be impacted personally.

“I’m still trying to understand how we have no compassion for those that are significantly impacted by these devices,” she said, “and that we should just tell them to move out of Clark County because they should be able to suck it up and take it.”

Olson said she isn’t “against fireworks, per se,” but that she believes Clark County has outgrown the usage of personal fireworks that present both a danger and a potential nuisance to neighbors in crowded communities.

“Whether we have to sedate our animals and put them in a closet while they’re still shaking. Whether we have seniors that lock themselves in the bathroom because their windows are rattling,” she said. “We do have veterans with PTSD. They’re impacted by this. You can say it’s one night or two nights, but it’s significant.”

As for the funding hit for nonprofits, Olson said she’s sympathetic to their concerns, but that they will have time to adapt and adjust.

“The whole state of Oregon is a Safe and Sane state,” she said. “They still have nonprofits there. They have youth programs there … So the idea that there aren’t other opportunities to raise money, I don’t think is a fair statement.”

Councilors Temple Lentz and John Blom joined Olson in voting yes, but did not make a comment on the record during Tuesday’s meeting.