BELLINGHAM - City Council will soon take up a draft ordinance to ban all personal-use fireworks inside the city, after members of the council's public works and public safety committee agreed Monday, April 22, that restrictions in existing city law are not effective enough.
The three committee members, chairman Stan Snapp and members Terry Bornemann and Gene Knutson, directed Mayor Kelli Linville and staff to bring a fireworks ban ordinance to the full council for discussion and review. According to state law, such a ban could not take effect until one year after enactment, so there would be no impact on Fourth of July 2013.
It is also far from certain that a total ban will be able get the majority of council votes that failed to materialize when the question came up in past years.
In the past, council members have worried about how to enforce such a ban when fireworks are readily available outside the city. They also have recognized that many city residents enjoy using fireworks. Still another issue: Some local nonprofit groups rely on legal fireworks sales for fundraising.
But many citizens complain about noise, fire danger, and the impact on dogs and cats. War veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress issues also have said they are bothered by the outbreak of cracks and booms around the 4th of July every year.
The current city ordinance, adopted in 2002 and amended in 2005, generally limits personal fireworks use in the city to Dec. 31, Jan. 1 and July 4. The ordinance also restricts the size of fireworks that can be sold and discharged.
At the committee meeting, interim Fire Chief Roger Christensen and Assistant City Attorney James Erb said the size restrictions are going to be more strictly interpreted this year. Christensen said the fire department will inform fireworks wholesalers and vendors that devices known as "large cakes" will no longer be permitted, effective in 2013. Large cakes are boxes that contain several rocket tubes that pack more firepower than allowed by the ordinance, which limits aerial devices to an explosive charge of no more than 130 milligrams.
During Monday's discussion, it seemed clear that some council members have become more receptive toward a ban. Snapp, a retired firefighter, has argued for a ban before, but on Monday, Knutson said he was reluctantly moving in that direction, too.
After Police Chief Cliff Cook told council that the number of fireworks complaints from the public has been rising rapidly, beyond his department's ability to respond to them, Knutson said it was clear that many people are not complying with the time and size restrictions in city law.
"Two or three o'clock in the morning, they're still blowing things off," Knutson said. "Enough is enough. ... Not only animals are terrorized. People are terrorized."
Knutson acknowledged that enforcing a total ban would be difficult and would not be 100 percent effective. But he also observed that cities with bans seem to experience far less trouble with fireworks once residents get the message.
Bornemann, who has been opposed to a ban in the past, said he, too, is unhappy about the amount of fireworks noise echoing around the city on and around Independence Day. He said he thought the existing ordinance was supposed to outlaw the largest rockets and loudest detonations, but those prohibitions don't seem to have much impact.
Bornemann was still skeptical about a ban.
"Fourth of July is a celebration of freedom and a break from a lot of different laws and other kinds of stuff," Bornemann said. "We have a national anthem that celebrates the rockets' red glare. ... It's very hard to separate that from citizens' psyches."
Council member Seth Fleetwood, sitting in on the committee meeting, wondered about that.
"As a kid who blew up my fair share of fireworks, I'm not sure how consumed with patriotic fervor I was," Fleetwood said.
Mayor Linville told the council they would need to decide where to draw the line if they want to enact a ban.
"Do we want the police to go out after kids with sparklers?" Linville asked.
She also noted that the council could put the issue to a citizen referendum.
"I'm not suggesting you do that," she added. "I'm just saying there's a lot of options."
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