A proposal to ban personal fireworks in Richland is headed to the City Council, but officials say the real goal is to spark a public conversation about fireworks in the city.
The city’s code enforcement board voted last week to ask for a ban.
Failing a full ban, the code board is asking the city to step up enforcement of its existing laws against aerial fireworks, and for an opportunity to invite citizens to share views on fireworks in a public forum.
Richland Mayor Bob Thompson has repeatedly said he’s uninterested in passing laws that can’t be enforced. The code board all but acknowledged Richland is unlikely to ban fireworks, as Kennewick and Pasco already have.
Still, the attempt to raise the issue in public is giving a voice to residents who say they’re fed up with the noise and the damage from fireworks.
Richland does not allow any aerial fireworks, and its ground-fireworks-only rules are already more restrictive than the state’s. The aerial ban is widely ignored at the Fourth of July, as it is in many jurisdictions.
A small crowd attended the code board’s Tuesday session. Some called fireworks a cherished tradition, while others want the city to do more to curtail fireworks use, especially illegal fireworks.
Joyce Utech, a retired emergency room nurse, said simply fighting illegal fireworks isn’t enough. She favors an outright ban.
“I’ve seen the injuries firsthand, and they’re ugly,” she said.
Her neighbor, Jean Christopher, said fireworks traumatize pets and force her to stay close to home out of fear a spark will ignite a fire.
“I can’t leave the house,” she said.
Christopher dismissed the idea that she could take her concerns up with offending neighbors.
“We can’t talk to our neighbor. We have a drug dealer in the neighborhood,” she said.
The country’s largest seller of legal fireworks weighed in against banning fireworks.
A representative from American Promotional Events, operating as TNT Fireworks, attended the meeting, but referred questions to Tacoma-based spokeswoman Karen Gower.
Fireworks are a lucrative way to raise money efficiently for a wide variety of nonprofits, including service clubs, youth sports, high school bands and churches, Gower said.
TNT, based in Florence, Ala., sells exclusively through nonprofits that operate fireworks stands.
Gower said banning legal Class C fireworks only sends fans in search of fireworks elsewhere, sometimes with counterproductive results. Fireworks that are illegal under Washington law can be legally sold on some reservations.
“Richland has an enforcement problem, not a fireworks problem,” she said.
Officially, the code board voted to forward a letter to the full council. No additional formal action by the code board is expected.
It was an unusual move for the board, which typically adjudicates complaints about overgrown weeds, derelict vehicles and general blight. The City Council did not ask it to review fireworks, but some members indicated they see fireworks as a public safety issue that ties directly to their work to maintaining the city’s livability.
The mayor has repeatedly said it makes no sense to criminalize fireworks. He hadn’t seen the board’s letter Wednesday, and couldn’t say if the full council would be open to a formal public conversation.
But he pointed out that city residents can address the council during the public comment period of regular public meetings. The council meets at 7:30 p.m. the first and third Tuesday of each month at Richland City Hall, 505 Swift Blvd. Its next meeting is Feb. 21.
The council frequently holds a pre-meeting just before the full session. Pre-meetings are open to the public. They do not have a formal public comment session, but the gatherings are less formal than the regular meeting and offer an opportunity to interact with elected city leaders.