Contributed file photo
There’s a well-known story of a Long Beach mayor decades ago who unscrupulously made sure his family had the only fireworks stand in town. Such self-dealing was once all too common. Today’s Long Beach administration is far more ethical. But hesitancy remains in local towns and Pacific County when it comes to rocking the boat on fireworks.
This year’s celebration — unlike the one in 2015 — didn’t end with any murders. And thanks to an enforcement effort by a score of Washington State Parks rangers, there was little overnight camping on the beach. There was a zero-tolerance policy and citations were issued for some categories of violations, such as defecating on the beach or minors in possession.
But there still was an appalling mess left for others to clean up. The amazing local Grassroots Garbage Gang and citizens acting on their own stepped up once again to collect and dispose of the worst insults to our beach — tons of fireworks debris, picnic litter, beverage containers and bonfire remnants. Some of it is merely ugly, while other celebration aftermath — plastic, broken glass, scrap-lumber nails and the chemical components of fireworks — constitute a risk to wildlife and people.
The Long Beach Peninsula’s Pacific shoreline — 28 miles of sand, dunes and cliffs — is one of Washington state’s most remarkable parks. For residents, it is an easily accessible community playground, a neighborhood asset that greatly enhances property values and quality of life. For the state as a whole, it’s a seashore of international significance. It is both a getaway for an ever-increasing state population — more than 800,000 more since 2010 to a total of 7.5 million — and a key link in a chain of habitat that supports everything from razor clams and Dungeness crab to migratory shorebirds, orcas and waterfowl.
As Washington State Parks has made increasingly clear to local authorities since the chaos of 2015, the beach is state property. Even the beach immediately in front of Long Beach is outside official city jurisdiction. It is time for State Parks to declare what it would for any of its other property: that a massive drunken party featuring illegal pyrotechnics is unacceptable. As nearby cities have banned consumer fireworks, some proportion of those who regard them as the pinnacle of entertainment have come to see our beach as the last bastion of anything-goes partying over the Independence Day holiday. It is time to rein this in. State Parks would be well within its power by banning fireworks from the beach.
When it comes to fireworks on private and public property elsewhere in the county, there has long been a feeling among some full-time residents that they are a nuisance. For example, in March 1958, 61 percent of Long Beach city residents voted to bar fireworks sales. Sixty years have passed and vacant downtown lots are filled with super-sized fireworks tents in the days leading up to the days when sales are now allowed. Unincorporated areas of the county also have a smattering of stands.
It is safe to say that resident opinions have not changed very much. A solid majority of residents would vote in a referendum to seriously curtail fireworks, while a significant minority would resent the infringement. No one likes to interfere with free enterprise. The 200 percent markup reportedly common on fireworks provides a big economic boost to stand operators. There are at least some downtown merchants who welcome anything — including fireworks — that brings more people to the area during profitable tourist season.
But it is time for Pacific County and its four cities to agree to restrict fireworks sales to fewer days. Some residents — probably an increasing number of them after last week — will certainly advocate for an outright ban. But there is something to be said for allowing a robust fireworks tradition, at least on July 4 itself.
The long, drawn-out nature of fireworks sales and discharges has in some ways come to resemble the obnoxious tendency to start marketing Halloween and Christmas weeks before those holidays — hollowing out the significance of the actual day. When it comes to July 4, it’s time to begin stuffing the celebration back into the actual day where it belongs.