Members of the Centralia City Council voiced their desire to further limit the number of days members of the public can legally discharge fireworks during a workshop held to discuss the issue prior to the regular council meeting on Tuesday.
Councilors Rebecca Staebler, Joyce Barnes and Max Vogt stated their desire for city staff to bring forward an ordinance at a future meeting that draws from the one adopted Tuesday by the Tenino City Council. That body voted Tuesday to allow the use of fireworks on four days each year, fewer than half of the nine days allotted by state law.
Staebler went as far as to say she would personally like to ban commercial fireworks altogether, along the lines of laws enacted in recent years by Tumwater, Olympia and Lacey. Only smaller items such as snakes and party poppers are allowed for use by the general public in those cities.
“It’s not freedom to annoy,” Staebler said. “It’s freedom to celebrate.”
Centralia residents have voiced their concerns in recent weeks that the length of time citizens are currently allowed to light off fireworks — June 28 through July 5 and Dec. 31 into Jan. 1 — causes problems ranging from safety hazards and excess litter to noise pollution that rattles pets and exacerbates medical conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Council members Peter Abbarno, Sue Luond and Cameron McGee each said they would not support a ban similar to those in place to the north. Luond questioned the validity of the issue as a whole, stating that to her, it seems like an example of government overreach, but added she would be open to whatever action the council chose to pursue. McGee said he would not want to see any restrictions placed on the sale of legal fireworks, a common fundraising activity for many nonprofit organizations.
Three members of the public shared their perspective with the city council, as did Chehalis Mayor Dennis Dawes. One citizen spoke of the value of bringing neighborhoods together to celebrate the Fourth of July with block parties and barbecues that often include copious amounts of fireworks. Dawes said he would like to explore ways to curtail the use of illegal fireworks, which are often responsible for noise complaints called into law enforcement, but hard to track down due to the large number of calls for service in conjunction with the holiday.
“The time frame where fireworks are actually being sold and, for the most part, legally allowed to be discharged, that’s also a busy time for the police department,” said Centralia Police Department Deputy Chief Stacy Denham. “…For us, enforcement is very difficult, almost nonexistent, because we do not have the personnel to be able to go and deal with it, especially on the Fourth of July.”
The question of whether increased enforcement via more targeted patrols or stiffer penalties came up more than once throughout the workshop. Mayor Lee Coumbs said that if the city is going to further restrict fireworks usage, there needs to be a strong consequence for those who continue to flaunt the law. Centralia City Attorney Shannon Murphy-Olson later stated illegal discharge of fireworks already can rise to the level of a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund noted that given the aerial nature of many fireworks, it can be hard for observers to determine a source location from ground level. That could pose an enforcement issue when there is a question as to whether the fireworks were launched from within city limits, the urban growth area or from county land.
Denham admitted that even when rules are enacted and enforced, they don’t stop everyone from continuing to operate outside those parameters. Coumbs reminded those in attendance that there will be chances for continued debate and public input when an ordinance comes before the council.
Any local fireworks ordinance stricter than state law is prohibited from taking effect until one year after final passage. Thus, any new rules adopted by the Centralia City Council will not impact a holiday until July 2020, at the earliest.
“I think staff is going to have to put something together that is a good balance,” Abbarno said. “I think we can talk about a total ban all we want, but it’s going to be that one Fourth of July where there’s a total ban and you’re going to finally listen to the silent majority who enjoy fireworks come out and oppose it. … I do think there is a good quality balance between bringing communities together while also respecting those in our community who don’t like the big booms.”