Letter: County proposed fireworks restrictions are not sufficient


The Board of County Commissioners, or BOCC, will be holding a public hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 23, regarding proposed fireworks code changes to ban aerial mortars and to reduce the number of days of legal usage from four to three. As a member of the Citizens for Safe and Humane Fireworks, we consider these to be only nibbles around the edges of an urgent issue.

The current code restricts some types of fireworks and only allows them for a few days and yet the illegal types of fireworks are lit off for at least a week all over the island. This includes our precious county parks where they are illegal, but the law is not enforced. People arrive from off-island without regard for the current code and we suspect it is because there is no clear and emphatic statement that fireworks of all types are (not allowed) banned like all the other counties around us have done.

The irony is that by continuing to allow some fireworks, the BOCC’s proposed code changes simply add another type of illegal firework that only increases the level of enforcement complexity that the sheriff and BOCC state as a reason that they don’t support a ban saying they cannot “chase booms” and new regulations won’t “change behavior.”

We recognize that the BOCC may believe their proposed code changes are a sufficient political compromise for unincorporated Island County. And we also acknowledge that Commissioner Johnson believes her constituents on the North End would not support a ban.

We do not agree that this is a political decision to be made based on what people like to do. Instead, it should be based on data like any other environmental regulation, and we have provided compelling evidence that fireworks are an outdated and unnecessary risk.

However, assuming the BOCC is determined to proceed with incremental code changes rather than a full ban in unincorporated Island County, our group also wants the BOCC to include the following in the proposed code change:

1. Significantly increase penalties for fireworks violations — the current maximum penalty of $250 is not a deterrent for someone who is willing to spend thousands of dollars on fireworks.

2. Reduce the hours for fireworks to July 4th only between noon and 11 p.m.

3. The sheriff must enforce the existing ban in all county parks and beaches; this step alone would go a long way toward a more hospitable and healthier environment since many of the large fireworks are detonated at Double Bluff, Maxwelton, Robinson Beach and Mutiny Bay.

4. Speak to our values and make it clear that the values we want instilled in the upcoming 2025 Comprehensive Plan include protection of our critical areas and wildlife from wildfire risk and the pollution/health risks associated with personal fireworks.

The bottom line is this: Simply adding another type of illegal firework to the code is insufficient to protect the environment and the public. Increased penalties and enforcement must be part of that to change behavior.

Even better, would be to completely ban fireworks in South Whidbey as all other counties surrounding Island County have done. It is time to acknowledge what the data tells us: The potential risk posed by fireworks is too high to wait for a disaster to occur. Why does the BOCC think Island County is immune?

Lee McGuire