Residents in the City of Sequim will determine in this Nov. 8 general election whether or not to ban discharging all consumer fireworks within the city limits starting in 2018.
The call to vote stems from ongoing discussion among Sequim city councilors about alleged fireworks violations and nuisances. If the advisory vote passes with a “yes” vote, city councilors would vote to make it illegal to shoot fireworks within the city limits except for approved public displays. Retailers still would be allowed to sell consumer fireworks. A “no” vote leaves the policy untouched.
City Attorney Kristina Nelson-Gross said three things could happen following the vote. If it passes, city councilors would vote to change the city’s code for July 4, 2018. If it doesn’t pass, they could opt to leave the code the same or consider reducing sales, days and hours in the future under a new amendment.
By state law, a ban cannot be effective until one year after its adoption.
Deputy Mayor Ted Miller suggested bans on fireworks within the city limits a few times over his tenure, but following a discussion this summer, councilors voted unanimously on July 25 to send the advisory vote to the ballot this November.
If passed, city councilors would continue to allow fireworks sales from June 28-July 5 by four groups, usually local churches/service groups, in designated areas.
City councilors like Genaveve Starr said they liked the idea of giving the public the chance to vote on a decision.
A sub-committee was formed to seek citizens for and against the ban to write a statement for Clallam County’s voter’s guide. Only citizens for the ban, Larry and Stella Allen, and John Butler appear in the voters guide.
The Rev. Dave Westman, a fireworks retailer for the Royal Rangers, testified before city councilors advocating for discharging/sales to continue and said he submitted a statement against the proposed ban and he’s unsure why it did not appear in the voters guide.
In the argument for the ban, the group stated that fireworks are dangerous and disturbing in densely populated areas like Sequim with risks of fire, injury and property damage along with fireworks’ noises negatively affecting animals and veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
They stated that sales can continue as most of the sales come from outside the city limits.
However, city staff said they could not track these sales.
Larry Allen, a Sequim city resident, said those for the ban are not opposed to fireworks but would like to see them handled in a public area such as the Clallam County Fairgrounds “where people could set off their own or watch a display with fire personnel there if they need an assistance.”
Miller said in July he does not believe fireworks are dangerous per se, but “they are dangerous in a highly dense population like Sequim. I don’t believe they should be banned in rural areas.”
Nelson-Gross said from other jurisdictions’ perspective, banning sales was key in an effective ban.
“(They say) you are essentially setting people up for failure and there is a certain amount of challenges you’ll face already because of the number of isolated county jurisdictions between peninsulas within city limits,” she said.
City Manager Charlie Bush said in cities with bans, typically complaint calls for fireworks violations go up.
This Fourth of July, the City of Port Angeles received 36 complaints about illegal fireworks this year while Sequim received eight calls, Sequim city staff reports.
City Councilor Candace Pratt said allowing the sales of fireworks along while banning discharging them seemed “dysfunctional.”
“It’s a grand assumption that everyone who is buying fireworks lives outside of town,” she said.
Westman said he understands city councilors’ concerns but he wouldn’t vote for the ban because “fireworks aren’t a right but a freedom.”
“It’s a freedom that has been enjoyed for a long time and that families enjoy,” he said. “It’s not something the fire department or police department have asked for. It’s strictly based on the issue of noise for a relatively short amount of time.”
If the ban carries through, Sequim would follow the Port Angeles City Council which voted in March 2015 to ban discharging fireworks within the city limits except on the Fourth of July. It went into effect last summer. The City of Port Townsend banned consumer fireworks in 2003.
Consumer fireworks would continue to be allowed for discharging from June 29-July 5 in Clallam County and the Sequim area outside of Sequim city limits.
Nelson-Gross said if the ban does pass, city staff recommended to the city council investigate financing a public fireworks display. She said early cost estimates set a show in Sequim between $11,000-$30,000 depending on the size of the mortars, length of the display and if the fireworks are discharged from a barge.
Nelson-Gross said if the city did host a public fireworks show, it likely would be on land at a park.
She said for security, signage and other costs, the city would need to budget about $25,000 for a 20-minute show.
The Sequim Irrigation Festival’s logging show in May hosts the Sequim-Dungeness area’s only public fireworks display annually.