Council members approved ban on personal fireworks in city limits Monday; now five votes will be needed to override mayor’s veto
WASHOUGAL — Washougal Mayor Sean Guard has vetoed a vote by members of the Washougal City Council to enact an ordinance banning all personal fireworks use and discharge within the city limits.
At a council meeting Monday night, the council members voted 4-3 to ban fireworks. After the meeting concluded, Guard made the decision to veto the vote and announced it on his Facebook page.
In his post explaining his actions, Guard said that he felt a ban was not what the majority of citizens desired.
“I don’t believe that the majority of Washougal residents want a complete ban on all fireworks,” Guard said. “I do think a huge majority of Washougal residents want an end to the loud sounds of mortars and the like, along with the huge mess these types of fly/explode fireworks leave on neighbors properties and everywhere else. I hope there is a reasonable alternative. Small, reasonable displays of fireworks are part of the fiber and celebration of our community and our country on two holidays a year.”
In the post, Guard further stated that he reached out to the council members indicating he would potentially be in favor of “safe and sane” restrictions that limit the types of fireworks allowed in Washougal.
Further, Guard explained that he did not believe a full ban would be effective in reducing the noise issue of large fireworks.
“A total ban would also not eliminate the sounds of mortars,” Guard explained. “Those who want will still possess and use illegal fireworks and we will never have enough officers to catch and cite the offenders.”
In his comments, Guard said that the council members may overturn the veto. Five total votes are needed, which constitutes a majority plus one. According to Guard, the vote could take place at the next city council meeting on Mon., Nov. 13.
Council members presented with two options
The city council was presented with two options for ordinances at Monday’s meeting. Ordinance option A comprised a complete ban on the sale, possession or discharge of personal fireworks in Washougal. Ordinance option B consisted of “safe and sane” guidelines that limited personal fireworks to those that rose no more than one foot in the air or traveled no more than six feet along the ground.
Council discussion opened when Council Member Michelle Wagner moved to postpone the vote on either ordinance until the spring. Wagner said that she wanted to base a vote on a more detailed survey sent out to citizens that would be used for budget planning purposes.
Council Member Ray Kutch seconded the motion.
Council Member Dave Shoemaker said that the city had been dealing with the issue of fireworks and complaints regarding their use since 2008, and that nothing was accomplished in that time. Shoemaker stated that he wanted a vote, not a postponement, as he felt the proposed delay would “cause the decision to be made after I leave the council, which I think is at least one of the points of the motion.”
The motion subsequently failed, and the council proceeded to discuss ordinance option B regarding “safe and sane” fireworks restrictions.
Wagner expressed a disapproval of a fireworks ban in Washougal. She said that “extremely loud and illegal fireworks” such as firecrackers and rockets were already prohibited in Washougal, and that banning all fireworks would not “be the most effective way, or safe and sound, to prevent illegal fireworks” from being used.
Wagner also expressed concern that a full ban on fireworks could potentially drive people out of the city limits into areas outside the city’s jurisdiction, such as nearby woodland areas, to discharge fireworks. Doing so would increase the risk of fires in vulnerable areas, Wagner said.
In her testimony, Wagner said that private fireworks contribute to a sense of community among friends and family, and further noted that data from a recent city survey showed over 60 percent of residents were in favor of having fireworks in some form to be allowed in Washougal.
“I feel obligated as their representative to vote against the ban on their behalf,” Wagner explained.
Council Member Paul Greenlee disagreed, and said that aerial fireworks have gotten so loud and large that the noise level “has gotten just beyond what is tenable.”
He responded to Wagner’s concerns by saying that the type of fireworks allowed often have no effect on family events.
“I’m just not convinced we need field artillery in order to celebrate the Fourth of July,” Greenlee said.
Shoemaker said that the “safe and sane” option would be difficult to enforce, and noted that of all the constituents he had talked with, “every one of them wants a ban.”
Council Member Joyce Lindsay agreed, noting that “the testimony at our meetings and the hearing that we’ve had has been predominantly for a ban.”
According to Council Member Dan Coursey, many people were in favor of a ban, but most simply wanted the noise and litter associated with fireworks to cease.
“I don’t see a whole lot of difference between either option,” Coursey said.
When sent before council for a vote, ordinance option B, limiting fireworks in Washougal to “safe and sane” guidelines, failed with only Greenlee voting yes.
The council members then proceeded to discuss ordinance option A, which constituted a complete ban on fireworks in Washougal.
Shoemaker moved that an amendment be added to the ordinance that would allow for an area within the city that was supervised and attended by paramedics, where the discharge of personal fireworks would be allowed.
The amendment proposal was approved by council, with Wagner and Kutch the only dissenting votes.
City Attorney Kenneth Woodrich suggested that the council members work to prepare code language for the amendment, and the council went into recess to draft official language for the amendment.
The amendment as submitted to council further specified that any fireworks used in the designated area had to be purchased from vendors at the site.
When the language of the amendment was formalized, the council took a second vote on amending ordinance option A to allow personal fireworks in a designated space. Wagner and Shoemaker were the only affirmative votes, and the amendment did not pass.
When passed before the council members for a vote, ordinance option A, banning all personal fireworks in Washougal, passed by a vote of 4 to 3. Council members Wagner, Kutch and Coursey voted against the ordinance.
During public testimony at the meeting, Washougal resident Bill Durgan expressed dissatisfaction with the council’s efforts to restrict and ban fireworks in the city. Durgan claimed that citizens’ rights were being infringed if the council decided to limit how they celebrated the Fourth of July.
In response to claims that many people were in favor of a ban, Durgan asked “where are those big numbers?”
After the vote to enact the ban, Durgan reminded the council members that some survey results showed a majority of people still wanted to be able to use fireworks, and that “you should already be considering that.”
Washougal resident Gloria Lionz, however, expressed approval of the council’s actions.
“It’s not just the noise,” Lionz said. “I don’t feel safe driving into my cubicle. I can’t see the children out there playing in the cul de sac for all the smoke.”
Lionz voiced her approval that the council’s decision would help improve the safety of Washougal for its residents.
The ordinance banning fireworks would be enacted 30 days from the vote, and citizens have an option in those 30 days to gather signatures on a petition for a referendum that could bring the issue back before the council for the members to carry out the action requested by the referendum.
Should no referendum be received, the ban will not take effect until a year after the vote. This means that the ban will only begin to have an effect during the 2018-2019 New Years celebration and the 2019 Fourth of July celebration.