Tumwater might ban fireworks

ahobbs@theolympian.comJanuary 16, 2014 

FILE - Jim Squire hangs posters in 2000 at fireworks booth in Tumwater. (Tony Overman/Staff file)

TONY OVERMAN

Tumwater will revisit the idea of banning fireworks in response to concerns about noise, safety and enforcement.

The Tumwater City Council reviewed the divisive issue during a work session this week and will seek public input in the coming months.

Some argue that illegal fireworks are the real problem and that an all-out ban will not stop the discharge of bottle rockets, firecrackers and M-80s, among others.

New fireworks regulations went into effect in 2013, allowing the discharge of fireworks in Tumwater from 3 p.m.- 11 p.m. July 3 and 4. Sales outlets were limited to one per 2,000 residents, resulting in eight locations that sold legal fireworks such as sparklers, Roman candles and cone fountains.

However, some say the rules don’t go far enough.

“The city has done a Kumbaya approach. We’ve been too soft,” said resident Jim Oberlander, who lives near Ferry Street Southwest and Seventh Avenue Southwest. Fireworks and their related noises cause undue stress for Oberlander, a Vietnam veteran who said he leaves town when the fireworks start popping in July.

In recent years, Olympia and Lacey passed ordinances to ban all fireworks in city limits. In 2012, Tumwater surveyed 260 residents on a fireworks ban, with 54.5 percent responding in favor of a ban.

Residents have complained about noise, spooked pets and fireworks-related debris on rooftops. In addition to the fire risk, some say the ordinances in Lacey and Olympia push people into Tumwater to set off illegal fireworks.

Some council members are comfortable with the city’s current policy. Ed Hildreth said a full ban could create unrealistic expectations for enforcement.

“We’re in a good position now with fireworks regulations the way they are,” Hildreth said. “The council just has to bite the bullet and make a decision.”

Councilwoman Joan Cathey supports an all-out fireworks ban. She said the city has discussed the issue long enough and needs to fall in line with neighboring municipalities.

“I don’t understand why we don’t go along with everybody else and do it,” said Cathey, who is also concerned about smoke, debris and environmental damage from fireworks. “I don’t know what we’re gaining by not doing it.”

As an alternative to setting off personal fireworks, the city sponsors a professional fireworks show for the public every year on July 4.

The council agreed Tuesday to review a possible ordinance at an upcoming meeting and to solicit public feedback.

Due to state law, a fireworks ban would go into effect one year after approval. If Tumwater wants a fireworks ban for July 2015, then action must be taken before July 4 of this year. That timeline will affect whether the city seeks a public vote, which would take place later this year during the primary or general election ballots.

Tumwater Police and Fire departments assign a fireworks patrol to work July 3 and 4. In 2013, these crews contacted 32 people, the city reports, noting that most of them were using fireworks legally.

Illegal fireworks were suspected in a pair of fire calls last July, according to the city. The number of 911 complaints had also increased, likely from heightened awareness of the new fireworks regulations. On July 4, there were 30 calls to 911.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 ahobbs@theolympian.com

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