Clallam commissioners seek compromise on fireworks ban after hearing

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County’s three county commissioners said after a public hearing they want to strike a compromise on a proposed fireworks ordinance.

Commissioners heard from 17 people during the Tuesday evening public hearing, with opinions ranging from banning fireworks to doing nothing. Many who were opposed to an outright ban told commissioners they would prefer to limit the days people can light off fireworks.

Commissioner Mark Ozias said the county has received about 200 comments on the issue and that letters both for and against a fireworks ban contain the similar language.

“One letter might be ‘don’t consider any sort of a ban on fireworks because if you do you will be impinging upon my freedom and my liberties and my rights,’ ” Ozias said.

“Then we’ll read the next letter and it will say ‘dear commissioners, please ban fireworks across the county because every year I feel like my freedom, my liberty and might rights has been infringed upon.’ ”

The ordinance as drafted would ban consumer fireworks across the county.

It would allow for permits for private displays, but would require the display to be organized, planned and discharged by a state-licensed pyrotechnician.

Jan Butler, who said she helped campaign for the fireworks ban in Port Angeles, said she now lives outside town in the county and is positive people are using illegal fireworks.

She said fireworks “turn cities and counties into war zones,” and recommended the county look at using LED drones instead of fireworks.

“Using [fireworks] is not a constitutional right,” she said.

Dennis Hagaman, who opposes an outright ban, brought with him a petition he said was signed by 653 other people who agree that fireworks should not be banned.

He told commissioners that fireworks are among the reasons tourists visit Clallam County each Independence Day.

“They go to stores, grocery stores,” he said. “They come and do this every year. They live in Seattle, Tacoma, Kent and they come here.”

He said it’s not fair to look at other forest fires, such as the destructive Eagle Creek fire last year, as a reason for banning fireworks in Clallam County.

The Eagle Creek fire, which was started Sept. 2 by a 15-year-old boy who was using fireworks during a burn ban, burned 50,000 acres over three months in the Columbia River Gorge.

In Oregon most fireworks are illegal, but that fire happened anyway, he said.

“You’re comparing a tinder box to a rain forest,” he said.

The three commissioners each said that they would like to find some sort of compromise.

Ozias asked staff to schedule a work session on the ordinance in late August or September so that commissioners can “amend the draft ordinance in a way that is reflective of the input we’ve received,” he said. “He should be able to come up with a compromise that we can be supportive of.”

Ozias said there could be more public hearings once the ordinance is redrafted, giving people more opportunities to comment on the issue.

Commissioner Bill Peach suggested that the ordinance might apply differently to different areas of the county

“I agree the West End, the rain forest, has a different set of dangers and hazards,” than in the Sequim area, he said. “I’m very interested in what’s appropriate in regard to the East End.

Commissioner Randy Johnson echoed Peach’s thoughts on finding a way to draft an ordinance that is appropriate for the various parts of the county.

Johnson agreed with many who spoke at the hearing that the county should limit the number of days fireworks can be used.

When there is risk of extreme fire danger, officials could declare a prohibition against all fireworks.

Johnson said the ordinance should give the county fire marshal more power to ban fireworks when there is a high risk for fire.

“All you need is dry weather, wind and time, and lo and behold you have issues,” he said, adding the fire marshal should have more discretion.

“For me, that part of the ordinance needs to be looked at in more detail.”

Any ordinance passed by the Board of County Commissioners would not be effective until a year after enacted.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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