Tumwater voters will decide in the Nov. 8 election whether to ban the sale and discharge of fireworks in the city.
Proposition 1 is an advisory vote on whether to ban fireworks year-round with two notable exceptions: the city-sponsored professional Fourth of July fireworks show at the Tumwater Valley Golf Course, and “small trick and novelty firework devices” such as bang snaps, snakes and smoke-generating items.
The debate on whether to ban fireworks in Tumwater has been smoldering for years. A 2012 city survey showed that 54.5 percent of respondents supported a ban, but a community survey in 2015 showed that 52 percent of respondents opposed a ban.
Current law allows residents to discharge legal fireworks between 3 p.m. and 11 p.m. on July 3 and July 4. Every year, these fireworks generate complaints to the city about noise and debris. Other concerns about fireworks include the danger of fire or property damage, and scaring children and animals.
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“I think people are ready for a ban,” said Paul Steucke, who co-authored a statement in the voters pamphlet in support of the proposition. “If they want to ban this thing, this is the moment.”
However, some say a ban will do no good. An opposition committee called Vote No on Tumwater Prop. 1 has raised $780 so far to spread that message, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission’s website.
Among those against the fireworks ban is John Carpenter, who retired in 2014 as chief of the Tumwater Fire Department. Carpenter said the ban could encourage people to buy more illegal fireworks, such as firecrackers and bottle rockets from local Indian reservations, instead of the “safe and sane” fireworks such as sparklers and fountains that will no longer be sold in the city.
“It’s unenforceable,” Carpenter said, adding that a ban could create false expectations among residents that fireworks will completely go away.
The “safer and saner” type of fireworks have been a fundraising cornerstone for some local charities and sports teams. One group is the Tumwater Lions Club, which takes in as much as $6,000 from fireworks sales every summer, said club member Jack Wittenborn. That money goes toward community projects such as purchasing dictionaries for local students and eyeglasses for people in need.
“I can’t find another service project to make that much money in four days,” said Wittenborn, who also is part of the opposition committee.
If voters approve the ban, the Tumwater City Council will enact an ordinance that would be effective for the 2018 fireworks season. The council passed a different ordinance in June that limited the number of fireworks stands and the hours of legal discharge of fireworks, starting in 2017. That ordinance also allows Tumwater’s fire chief to ban all fireworks in case of extreme fire danger.
Olympia and Lacey already ban the sale and discharge of fireworks. Starting in 2017, a new law will allow officials to ban fireworks in unincorporated areas of Thurston County during periods of extreme fire danger.