Voters in Tumwater are facing a familiar question on the ballot in Tuesday’s special election: whether to permit the sale, possession and discharge of fireworks around the Fourth of July.
Tumwater voters narrowly approved a ban on fireworks less than two years ago. This time around, a “yes” vote would overturn the ban and a “no” vote would keep the ban.
As of Friday, 27 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots, according to the Thurston County Auditor’s Office.
Supporters of Tumwater’s ban say fireworks cause injuries and fires and can be a nuisance to pets and people with post-traumatic stress disorder. Olympia and Lacey already ban fireworks.
Tumwater’s ban passed in 2016 by just 78 votes in an advisory vote. The City Council later passed an ordinance prohibiting the sale and discharge of consumer fireworks. That does not apply to public firework displays by licensed technicians.
“The vote was so close,” said Jack Wittenborn, who helped write the statement in favor of overturning the ban for the voters’ pamphlet. “On the old ballot ‘yes’ meant ‘no’ and ‘no’ meant ‘yes.’ We think there was a lot of confusion. This time ‘yes’ means ‘yes’” to fireworks.
Wittenborn is a member of the Tumwater Lions Club, which sold fireworks as a fundraiser for decades. He said the city should focus on ending the use of illegal fireworks but let groups like his continue to sell legal ones.
“(The ban) has limited the ability for nonprofits to make thousand of dollars in four or five days,” he said.
The measure on Tuesday’s ballot would allow sales from June 28 to July 4, which is three days more than was previously allowed. It also says the City Council could restrict “but not eliminate entirely” the use of fireworks in years with extreme fire danger.
“In general it expands the allowed use of fireworks,” said Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet, who is leading the campaign to keep the ban. Kmet said he is concerned about not being able to prohibit use during extreme fire danger — something the city was able to do before the ban. “That goes away if this passes, and that cannot be amended by the City Council.”
The petition to repeal the ban was submitted by a group called Citizens for Legal Fireworks. American Promotional Events in Tacoma, a fireworks distributor, has given more than $30,000 in in-kind contributions to that group, and the group’s treasurer is a lobbyist for the Consumer Fireworks Safety Association.
“I think I’d be less opposed to this if it was a true grass-roots effort,” Kmet said. “Clearly it’s not a grass-roots effort.”
Get your ballot in
Ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday or dropped off at one of the five open ballot drop boxes by 8 p.m. Tuesday:
▪ Tumwater Timberland Library, 7023 New Market St. SW, Tumwater
▪ Tumwater School Administration Office, 621 Linwood Ave. SW, Tumwater
▪ Church of the Good Shepherd, 1601 North St. SE, Olympia
▪ Haggen NW Fresh, 1313 Cooper Point Road SW, Olympia
▪ Thurston County Courthouse, 2000 Lakeridge Drive SW, Olympia