PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County commissioners overwhelmingly heard during a public hearing Tuesday that a county-wide ban on fireworks is not the answer.
Commissioners heard from about 20 people during the public hearing, many of whom asked commissioners to consider a compromise that would still allow residents to use fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July.
Former Clallam County commissioner Martha McKeeth Ireland urged commissioners to consider allowing neighborhoods to petition to become a “no firework zone,” an idea that multiple people said they supported.
The commissioners did not take action on the issue and have asked county officials to schedule a public hearing in the evening to give working people a chance to have their voice heard.
That hearing is set for 6 p.m. July 17 in room 160 at the Clallam County Courthouse.
McKeeth Ireland told commissioners she has had plenty of pets throughout the years that have been terrified of the fireworks her neighbors set off, but she doesn’t support the ordinance as drafted.
“I certainly cannot support a full ban,” she said, adding that the county should further limit the days people are allowed to set off fireworks.
State law allows people to set off fireworks during set hours from June 28 through July 5 and the night of Dec. 31.
She suggested allowing fireworks in Clallam County for only two or three days.
The ordinance as drafted would ban consumer fireworks across the county.
It allows for permits for private displays, but would require the display to be organized, planned and discharged by a state licensed pyrotechnician.
Ryan Elmer of Forks told commissioners that the conditions that need to be met in order to get a permit would leave most people without any way to have a private display.
“Everyone who wants to have a public or private fireworks display in their yard on their property is going to have to hire someone to light it off,” he said. “I don’t think it is the will of the people to have to go out and hire someone to light off a display for them … because at that point only the very richest people would be allowed to enjoy their fireworks.”
Clallam County Commissioner Mark Ozias told those who attended that the county had already received about 100 comments on the proposal.
Ozias first proposed new fireworks regulations last month after he heard from a number of Sequim-area residents who had concerns about fireworks.
The cities of Port Angeles, Sequim and Port Townsend have already passed fireworks bans.
“It’s very clear from the level of comments that we have received so far — much as we expected — that there is deep passion on both sides of this issue,” Ozias said at the beginning of the hearing. “What has been most striking to me as I have read the comments is that there are many that contain almost exactly the same language, but come from both sides of the fence here.
“There are folks on both sides of this issue who feel like their rights are going to be infringed if fireworks are regulated or who feel that their rights are already under assault.”
Ozias asked those who attended to propose ideas to strike a compromise. Ozias said commissioners could adopt regulation by geographic region, by limiting days and times fireworks can be discharged and that there could be more flexibility.
If an ordinance is passed, it would take one year to go into effect.
Commissioners heard from multiple fireworks stand owners from the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, who told them an outright ban would hurt several families who depend on income from fireworks sales.
Among them was Rachel Hagaman, who told commissioners that fireworks are a part of American culture.
“The thing that resonated with me the most was the fact that culture and thought of trying to take away part of our culture — being a Native American woman my whole life — that is something I have always had to deal with,” she said. “Celebration is part of American culture and it is part of our culture.”
She said she wasn’t speaking for others who have fireworks stands, but said there would be a negative impact on tribal members if the county commissioners approved a fireworks ban.
“We have families that have fireworks stands,” she said. “It’s not just one family member, it’s the whole family that benefits.”
She, and many others who attended, said they are not opposed to the county adding “reasonable” regulations to fireworks.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].