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County fireworks season now a day shorter

Jake Brown and Ryan Meese work to set up a Discount Fireworks stand at the old Ford dealership lot on State Highway 20 in Oak Harbor. The Island County Commissioners agreed Monday to shorten the county’s rules to comply with state law. - Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times
Jake Brown and Ryan Meese work to set up a Discount Fireworks stand at the old Ford dealership lot on State Highway 20 in Oak Harbor. The Island County Commissioners agreed Monday to shorten the county’s rules to comply with state law.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times

Despite the pleas of a handful of residents, fireworks season in Island County will not be shortened beyond state law.

The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to alter county rules for the sale and discharge of fireworks so that they align with state regulations but nothing more.

“This is a good first step,” Board Chairman Kelly Emerson said.

County ordinances allowed the discharge and sale of fireworks from noon on June 28 to noon on July 6. State rules have a similar schedule but it ends on July 5 and are slightly more restrictive with the specification of allowed hours.

County officials have been aware of the discrepancy for years and although a change was discussed by the board last year, the issue was tabled until 2013. Previously discussions about restricting the allowable time frame even further were not supported by the board.

The commissioner’s vote followed a public hearing in which at least six people requested the board go beyond the state standard. Many asked that the rules be restricted to just one day.

Complaints were across the board, ranging from impacts to animals and pets to litter on beaches and excess noise.

“I promised my dog who is turning 13,” said Eileen Brown, a Central Whidbey resident. “She has a bladder problem. I said, ‘I’ll talk to them about it.’”

Like several others who spoke at the meeting, she questioned why the discussion was happening at all. This is a one-day holiday, she said, and the celebration should be matched.

Others made simple but direct statements about noise.

“I think there is enough noise in Central Whidbey,” said David Day, a Coupeville resident.

While the board’s vote was unanimous, Commissioner Helen Price Johnson was in favor of tighter restrictions. She said she was initially wary of going beyond the state standard but was convinced by constituent complaints.

She proposed the season be shortened to July 3 and July 4 but it was not supported by her colleagues. Price Johnson voted for the motion but said she only did so because it shortened the time frame by one day.

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown was in attendance and was quizzed by Price Johnson and Board Chairman Kelly Emerson about how the code change may affect his department.

Brown said his department has been hamstrung with budget cuts and that, consequently, fireworks are a low priority call. He worried that a shorter season might create an expectancy from the public to respond when he lacks the appropriate staff resources to do so.

“I have bigger fish to fry,” the sheriff said.

Price Johnson questioned Brown’s logic.

“I would think it would lessen the load because there would be fewer people discharging on fewer days,” she said.

She added her belief that most people will chose to follow the law whether it’s enforced or not.

Commissioner Price Johnson expressed disapproval of the line of questioning.

She said the sheriff had been “gracious” and was a “good sport” to provide more information to the commissioners but that this was a board-generated measure.

“He’s in no way obligated to advocate or defend it,” she said.

Johnson said it wasn’t his job and that “summoning the sheriff, an elected official, a peer of ours, and asking him to sit there and report like staff is moderately disrespectful.”

Johnson argued she was from a “fireworks loving town” and that the county’s rural rules are a boon to tourism. That economic benefit should not be taken lightly, she said.

“At this point, I’m not comfortable going beyond what the state has deemed appropriate,” she said.

Although Emerson has been a consistent voice of opposition for additional restrictions, and did not support requests for a tighter schedule, she did say she was not opposed to having additional conversations in the future.

“I would be willing to have the discussion again, I would just like to see more stability in the sheriff’s office,” Emerson said.

 

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