Sixty-three percent of public comments opposed the ban approved by members of the Clark County Council
On Dec. 1, members of the Clark County Council approved new restrictions on what types of fireworks can be sold or used in the rural, unincorporated areas of Clark County. The new law is scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 31, 2021. It will prohibit fireworks that explode, fly more than a foot into the air, or travel more than six feet along the ground.
But that may change if the efforts of area resident Peter Silliman bear fruit.
Yesterday afternoon, Silliman submitted a referendum petition to the county. Staff will now verify the signatures and other aspects of the petition. Silliman expects he will be given the green light in early January that will start a 120-day period to collect signatures of voters.
“The Clark County Charter spells out that we have 10 days to collect 100 signatures,” he said, proudly showing a handful of petitions with 359 signatures that he says were collected in nine days.
“The people that I encountered collecting signatures this weekend, were very excited and animated about this,” he said. “They were very passionate about it. “We had a 100-voter requirement and in three days we’ve collected over 350 signatures.”
Silliman points out that this would not make any changes to city laws regarding fireworks. “Most of the cities have already banned or restricted the types or use of fireworks,” he said. “I think Vancouver’s very restrictive already.”
“The county voted to adopt what they call the “California safe and sane fireworks standard,” he said. “I don’t believe that people in the rural heart of our county feel this is appropriate.”
Silliman said his phone started ringing the evening the County Council passed the new restrictions. Friends in rural parts of the county were saying “this is wrong” and “how can we change this?”
During several months of council discussion, a great deal of public input was considered. 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.
Silliman addressed another aspect of the ban. “A lot of people don’t realize it, but your local Lions Club, the Boy Scouts, and other nonprofit groups buys a license to sell fireworks from the county and raise money.” These groups are harmed by the ban, Silliman says.
During the council deliberations, 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.
It was pointed out during council deliberations that the Cowlitz Tribe could sell anything they wanted on their land, which would allow any types of fireworks to enter the county.
Silliman said his efforts will allow the citizens to speak and determine what they want regarding fireworks.
But there is another possibility. The members of the County Council could see this referendum petition moving forward and simply vote to rescind their ban. They could also vote to put the referendum on the ballot, saving the people the time and effort of collecting signatures.
He pointed out that Councilor Julie Olson was the primary driver of the county ban. It passed in a split 3-2 vote, with outgoing councilor John Blom voting to support the fireworks ban. In January, Karen Bowerman will replace Blom on the council, allowing for reconsideration of the issue.
Silliman highlighted the fact that the County Charter allows the people this process. “This is one of the encouraging things that we passed in our Clark County Charter,” he said.
“The people of our county now have the power of referendum, which means if your councillors pass something that you don’t agree with, you can put that on hold,’’ Silliman said. “You can gather signatures and put that on the ballot so that people can decide for themselves.”