Sheriff overruled on fireworks

Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley’s plan to restrict fireworks displays to a few days each year blew up in his face Monday.

The Board of County Commissioners approved an appeal of a decision Hawley made to deny a permit for a special display in Freeland.

“I’m not a fireworks hater,” Hawley told the board. “I enjoy the shows. I just don’t have the resources to support private parties.”

The shows that occur during the off season — not around the Fourth of July or New Year’s — result in a flood of 911 calls that the Sheriff’s Office must respond to and pay for, Hawley said.

Each 911 call to I-COM costs the office approximately $25, regardless of its nature, Hawley said. During a private show last August in Useless Bay, Hawley said I-COM received several hundred 911 calls over the show’s 45-minute duration.

“The big problem has been the community at large is not aware of what’s going on,” Hawley said.

This is the third time since June the issue has come before the commissioners. Hawley has pushed for a permanent change in Island County Code to restrict the use of fireworks to the Fourth of July and New Year’s.

M.O.C. Fireworks owner Mick Olsen, who filed the appeal and is scheduled to conduct the show, said fireworks are an integral part of America’s heritage.

“Arbitrarily outlawing commercial fireworks cannot be the only possible answer,” Olsen, a Freeland resident, wrote in his appeal.

Current county code states that the approval of a permit is at the sole discretion of the county’s fire marshal, which is Hawley.

In order to apply for a permit, the show must be organized by a state-licensed operator that carries a bond that the sheriff deems adequate. The applicant must also pay a $10 fee.

“The rules Hawley has put in basically prohibits fireworks except for the Fourth and New Year’s,” Commissioner Mac McDowell said. “I don’t think the sheriff has the right to outright ban (fireworks).”

The board unanimously approved the appeal with two conditions. Olsen must pay for advertising in the South Whidbey Record to notify neighbors of the Oct. 9 show, and Olsen must also furnish a $500 bond that will be forfeited if the show runs longer than 12 minutes.

“If nothing else, I’d like to see how many complaints this generates,” McDowell said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at

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