The fuse is lit and the countdown begins, and many Bonney Lake residents will be nervously watching whether the city’s proposed firework ban will be a boom or a bust.
The council decided last Tuesday to schedule a town hall meeting, tentatively set for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Justice and Municipal Center, for residents to voice their opinions for or against a total ban and to discuss any ideas in-between.
According to Bonney Lake Mayor Neil Johnson and Police Chief Dana Powers, discussions about firework bans have been brought up at city council meetings since the early 2000s, but they both say something is different this time around.
“There seems like more momentum,” Powers said. “Before, one or two people would come to Public Safety but then we wouldn’t hear from them again… It was more of a noise issue more than anything else.”
Now, Powers said the unusually dry summer conditions brought a safety factor into the conversation, which seems to have encouraged more people to come forward about their concerns.
The idea of putting a non-binding referendum on the November ballot was tossed back and forth in the council, but Johnson said the council decided to hold a town hall meeting instead of a referendum due to time constraints.
“If the council had at least a month and a half to have people weigh in on this before they put it on the ballot, that would be great, but this came up pretty quick,” the mayor said, explaining how the ‘for’ and ‘against’ statement deadline is Aug. 4 if the referendum were to appear on November’s ballot. “At least with a town hall meeting, you can get people to say what they like and don’t like and then the council can have a discussion about the next steps.”
Additionally, putting a referendum on the 2016 ballot would cost the city more money because it is an off-year election, said Johnson, and the council expressed interest in making a decision before the next Independence Day.
If a ban is passed, it will not take effect for a full year because of the Revised Code of Washington 70.77.250(4), which states “any ordinances adopted by a county or city that are more restrictive than state law shall have an effective date no sooner than one year after their adoption.”
This means a ban passed in 2015 will not effect fireworks used on New Year’s Eve or July 4, 2016.
According to Powers, the Bonney Lake Police received 38 complaints about fireworks from July 3 to the 5, but no citations were issued.
“Enforcement is very difficult,” she said. “The code is very broad and really limits our ability to confiscate and issue citations for fireworks.”
Powers said officers need to see evidence, either in person or a photograph or video, of a subject holding a lighter to an illegal firework and see it lift off in order to issue a citation.
Getting witnesses to come forward and confirm a suspect is difficult, Powers said, but it is even more difficult to determine whether the fireworks that were lit were legal or illegal, because all fireworks look the same after they explode.
“It’s difficult at best,” Powers said.
A total ban on fireworks would give officers the power to confiscate all fireworks, legal or illegal.
What makes a firework illegal
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission set limits on fireworks that became effective in Dec. 1976.
Consumer fireworks, or fireworks that can be sold and used by the public, are limited by federal law to contain 50 milligrams or less of flash powder for ground devices, and 130 milligrams or less of flash powder for aerial devices.
Additionally, consumer fireworks must have fuses that burn for at least three seconds but no longer than 9 seconds.
Although bottle rockets, sky rockets and firecrackers are marked as consumer fireworks and are normally legal, they are illegal to sell, possess and light in Washington, according to the Washington State Patrol.
Other illegal fireworks like M-80s, according to the Wall Street Journal article “M-80s: The Big Illicit Bang,” contain 3,000 milligrams of flash powder, three times over the legal limit for ordinary citizens.
The article made a point in observing the urban legend that an M-80 is the equivalent of a quarter-stick of dynamite (which contains 20,000 milligrams of flash powder) is untrue.
Altering consumer fireworks is also illegal, and the WSP recommends using bomb squads to remove such devices.
One example of an altered firework is the sparkler bomb, which is a group of sparklers tightly wrapped together by tape.
“We found two sparkler bombs July 22 in the middle of the road. We went over there and had to bring in a bomb squad,” Powers said. “People lose their lives to illegal explosive devices all the time.”
There are various reports of sparkler bombs only needing heat or friction to ignite, which is why police send in bomb squads to safely remove such devices.
An Orting man died when his homemade pipe bomb, which he was making for the 4th of July, exploded unexpectedly last June.