'Worst year': Complaints about personal fireworks could lead to city ban in Port Angeles

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — After hearing complaints about illegal fireworks on the Fourth of July, a sympathetic City Council agreed last week to revisit the city's consumer fireworks policy and perhaps consider banning them altogether.

Councilman Brad Collins said he would favor an outright ban.

“I think that they've gotten so bad that we should take the step to eliminate fireworks in the city,” he said.

Said Councilman Lee Whetham: “I'd be interested in further exploring a reduction, or elimination, of fireworks by city residents.”

The discussion was promoted by public testimony from Jan Butler, who told the council at its Tuesday night meeting that mortar fireworks were being blasted horizontally across her property well past midnight July 5.

“This was the worst year I've ever seen in my neighborhood, absolutely the worst,” Butler said.

She said she installed sound-absorbent material in her home in anticipation of the revelry.

“It worked against the smaller fireworks, but we were helpless against the larger mortars,” Butler said.

“I think there are other ways that we could be celebrating the Fourth of July without this amount of violence. The noise levels are just too high, too much, too long.”

She added: “People are not following the start and stop times. Our fire and police cannot cover everything. They just can't get to the calls.”

Council members shared similar stories about fireworks in their neighborhoods.

Councilwoman Cherie Kidd said a live power line was shot down by fireworks along Laurel Street. The booming explosions lasted until about 2 a.m. July 5, she said.

“I really want to address the safety issue of our citizens and fireworks,” she said.

At the end of the four-hour meeting, council members directed staff to prepare a report on fireworks for a future council meeting.

No date for the discussion has been set, City Manager Dan McKeen said Friday.

Although the rules are often broken, Port Angeles has the most restrictive consumer fireworks regulations in Clallam County — and the second-most restrictive on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Legal fireworks purchased at state-licensed fireworks stands can be discharged in Port Angeles between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. on the Fourth of July, according to municipal code.

Elsewhere in the county, fireworks can be shot until 11 p.m. June 28 to July 3, until midnight on the Fourth of July and until 11 p.m. July 5.

Port Townsend banned fireworks in 2003.

Butler said modern fireworks are nothing like the cones and sparklers of her youth.

“I'm talking explosions, massive explosions,” she said.

“They rock through your house. I thought we were living on an artillery range.”

For those sensitive to fireworks, the alternative is to spend hundreds of dollars to leave the area and “wonder if your house has been burned down while you were gone,” Butler said.

Near the end of the meeting, Whetham agreed with Butler's assessment of the fireworks in the west-side neighborhood they share.

“It was really intense this year, badly intense,” he said.

Collins was careful to point out that the council supports the public fireworks display off City Pier.

“The public fireworks start at 10 o'clock because that's when it gets dark,” Kidd said.

“Legally, our limit [for consumer fireworks] is 11 [p.m.]. Well, maybe we should move it to midnight but then enforce it.”

Mayor Dan Di Guilio and others said it is difficult for police to enforce fireworks violations because of the sheer volume of calls.

“It's hard to chase fireworks,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Patrick Downie asked staff for a comparison between the money spent on fireworks-related calls for service and the sales tax generated by legal fireworks stands.

Kidd said the late-night, early morning illegal fireworks display in her neighborhood was “outrageous.”

“I concur entirely with what I thought was just craziness on the Fourth of July,” Di Guilio said.

“I woke up at 5 o'clock in the morning [July 4] with mortars going off. So they started very early and continued well past 11:30, midnight, when I went to bed.”

Di Guilio added: “While I want to have a discussion — I think it's important that we have a discussion — I think we need to be sensitive to the fact that many of the retailers of the fireworks, they're nonprofits, and it may be their major funding source for their particular organization such as the Boy Scouts or maybe some church groups or something.”

Collins said it would be unfair to expect the Police Department to rein in the problem.

“It seems very widespread,” Collins said.

“I think we'd be better off in our enforcement effort to simply ban fireworks in the city of Port Angeles.”

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 20. 2014 8:31AM
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