LONG BEACH PENINSULA — After decades of maintaining the status quo and pushing the issue off to the side, local officials are preparing to take their most substantial action yet against fireworks usage.
In the weeks since the Fourth of July weekend, elected officials for the cities of Long Beach and Ilwaco, as well as Pacific County, have expressed a willingness — even an eagerness in some cases — to curb the sale and use of fireworks in the days leading up to July 4.
At a well-attended Long Beach City Council workshop ahead of the usual council meeting on July 19, Mayor Jerry Phillips and a clear majority of councilors were in agreement that the time has arrived to address the issue of fireworks and the role they should play in the city’s July 4 plans moving forward, during what historically is the busiest week of the year in the city and on the peninsula.
“I like the fireworks as much as anybody, but we’ve got to rein this in because this year was a peak of irresponsibility on a lot of people, and I’m not just talking about the trash,” said Councilor Del Murry. “The thing is, we’re not enforcing anything and it just turns into chaos.”
Limiting sale and use period
One proposal that most, if not all, councilors seemed to agree on is limiting the number of days that fireworks can be sold and discharged. Currently, licensed fireworks stands can start selling consumer fireworks on June 28, lasting through July 5. The period when fireworks can be legally discharged mirrors the sales period, from June 28 through July 5.
Phillips said cutting down on the dates fireworks can be sold and discharged from an eight-day period to a three-day period — July 2 to 4 — is a possible compromise between doing nothing and totally banning fireworks. Most councilors were in favor of limiting the sale and use of fireworks to three days, but Councilor Holli Kemmer argued cutting the period from eight to three days is too drastic and suggested limiting it to five days.
The mayor also said the city could look at adopting an ordinance that allows for an emergency fireworks ban. Some cities, including South Bend, have adopted such ordinances, which allow for bans under certain conditions, mostly weather-related. Phillips recommended that the decision about whether to institute such a ban be left up to the city’s fire chief, police chief and mayor.
“I want an informed decision by three people that have an impact on public safety overall, rather than just one person,” Phillips said. Some councilors said the council should play a role in deciding whether an emergency ban should be put in place.
Phillips said he doesn’t think a total ban on fireworks would solve any problems and that people would still shoot them off on the beach, where jurisdiction belongs to Washington State Parks. He said he’d rather put the previous suggestions in place first and see how well they work before taking a more drastic action. He also said it was important to keep tourism in mind.
“Logging is not big money here anymore, and we’re having a lot of trouble with shellfish and salmon and everything else. How do we make money and provide all of the infrastructure for the city?” Phillips asked.
If the council was ever to ban fireworks outright in the future, Phillips said he’d encourage those councilors to look at beefing up the city-sanctioned fireworks show. Rather than spending $20,000 for a single show, he said the city should look at spending $35,000 to $40,000 if a consumer fireworks ban ever comes to pass to help attract large crowds.
Beach approach vehicle ban
Councilors also discussed whether banning cars from driving onto the beach via the city’s two beach approaches on Sid Snyder Drive and Bolstad Avenue on July 4 would be an effective way to combat the free-for-all on that stretch of beach that has persisted for years.
Under this scenario, the end of the beach approach near where the sand begins would be closed off to vehicle traffic, with people needing to park their cars in the beach approach parking lots and walk on foot to get onto the beach for Fourth of July festivities. The hope, Murry said, would be to foster a safer and more family-friendly environment for the holiday, rather than the “chaos” that he said currently exists.
“It’s a lawless beach thing, and you can’t have families that just want to come down here and enjoy the beach and watch the fireworks,” Murry said, adding that he witnessed cars racing to get off the beach this year as high tide came in at around 9:30 p.m. “We’ve taken away from a real family time, and we’ve just got to rein it in.”
Murry acknowledged that people determined to drive their cars onto the Long Beach area of the beach for the holiday festivities could use the beach access point at Cranberry Drive or some other access point and drive back to the city. But by closing down vehicle access at their own beach approaches, he said people would be less inclined to physically carry massive loads of fireworks and other garbage onto the beach, since they can only access it by foot.
Councilor Tina McGuire said she understood the intent of closing off vehicles to the beach, but believes it may cause further congestion on the beach because families probably aren’t going to walk long distances in the sand to distance themselves from others.
“You’re going to have a large amount of pedestrians clustered in one spot, rather than just spread out on the beach because they’re not going to walk a mile down the road,” McGuire said. “I agree with you that it should be a family event, I don’t disagree with that. But I think it’s going to make it more difficult for some of those families with children.”
Getting on the same page
Eyes seem to be on the city and what steps the council will take next. Phillips said it’s important to be on the same page with the city of Ilwaco and Pacific County, and that elected officials from the three government entities take uniform action so fireworks rules remain consistent throughout the whole of the peninsula.
That’s especially true with Ilwaco, as Ilwaco contracts with Long Beach for coverage from the Long Beach Police Department.
“As we move forward with this, how do we get Ilwaco on board? Because we don’t want to enforce something in one city and the other being different,” Phillips said.
Although it wasn’t on the agenda, fireworks were a topic of discussion at last week’s Ilwaco City Council meeting on July 12. Following the public comment period, when an audience member spoke out about their desire for the city to restrict consumer fireworks use, councilors were in unanimous agreement about taking action on the issue, including limiting the sale and use period for fireworks. More discussion and potential action is expected at future council meetings.
Long Beach City Administrator David Glasson said that he has been in touch with county officials, and that the Pacific County Commissioners are expected to take up the fireworks issue next month.
“If the county doesn’t do this, it will just move to Klipsan and Ocean Park,” Councilor Natalie Hanson said.
Bonnie Lou Cozby, president of the Ocean Park Village Club, said it was critical for the city to get the county on board with whatever changes they enact.
“Any reduction of fireworks [in Long Beach] will be put into the unincorporated beaches, and we do not have anything to work with. We only have the county, so please keep that in mind,” Cozby said. “Any changes need to be worked out together, because if not it’s really going to be a burden on all of your neighbors on the peninsula.”
Glasson cautioned that any changes for the city or any other municipality in Washington may not go into effect until 2023 due to a state law, although the city may be able to bypass that with an emergency declaration.
“In talking to the county, talking to other cities, a lot of them don’t want to do anything until Long Beach decides what they want to do,” Phillips said.
Phillips said there wasn’t a huge rush for the county to take action immediately since this year’s Fourth of July festivities have already passed, and that the city will come back at a future meeting with a more detailed draft of the proposed new restrictions, as well as a draft of an ordinance allowing for an emergency ban.
Pushback from business owners
Several business owners pushed back against the council’s push to curb fireworks usage leading up to July 4, arguing that doing anything but continuing with the status quo would be a blow to the community’s uniqueness and economic interests.
Jeff Harrell, owner of Peninsula Pharmacies and co-owner of Dylan’s Cottage Bakery, said the city shouldn’t wreck something so unique as its tradition of being a fireworks haven. He said he’s been shooting fireworks for 35 years, since he was 10, and that to reduce or change the current fireworks rules “is only going to appease a small percentage of people who don’t like fireworks.”
“And look at the revenue, man. The revenue for Saturday [July 3], of every business I talked to, was absolutely record-breaking. The most they’ve ever had,” Harrell said. “So when you’re taking this into consideration, don’t get pushed by the minority. This is something that’s been here for 40 years and, knock on wood, we haven’t had a major injury as well. For me to listen to this, it’s absurd … it makes absolutely no sense to reduce it and change anything, really.”
William Marsh said the council’s proposals are worse than he thought it would be. He said he understands the desire to close the beach approach down to combat the trash and chaos, but doesn’t believe it is practical.
“As for [the proposed fireworks restrictions], it just feels like you don’t like commerce and are attacking the business community. These people come down here because we’re unique, and they come down here because they can have an experience that they can’t get in other places,” Marsh said. “And so we want to limit that? We want to cut it down? Because our business is too busy and we make it through the winter too easily? This is like our bread and butter, guys. I don’t know, it just seems silly.”
But Andi Day, executive director of the Long Beach Visitors Bureau, said preliminary results of an informal survey of 72 local business owners showed that 43% would like fireworks to be banned outright, 23% would like them to be reduced to just one or two days, 29% would like things to stay the same, and 8% chose some other option.
Day also noted that Long Beach and two nearby competitors, Cannon Beach and Ocean Shores, were on a similar visitation trend this year up until the Fourth of July weekend, when Long Beach’s levels dropped off while Cannon Beach and Ocean Shores remained steady.
“There could be a lot of different explanations for that, but [Cannon Beach and Ocean Shores] have both restricted or banned fireworks. And I wonder if we’re getting to a point where we’re actually losing some business because of fireworks?” Day asked.