The rocket's red glare each Fourth of July has become in recent years more intense -- and dangerous, leading the Richland City Council on Tuesday to start talks about whether there's a better way to handle enforcement of its fireworks laws.
The discussion was prompted in part by the death of John Scott Anderson, 61, of Richland, who was killed when an illegal 3-inch mortar that failed to light exploded when he went to check on it.
Police Chief Chris Skinner and Fire Chief Grant Baynes told the council there were more fireworks complaints this year than last -- and that big, hazardous, illegal fireworks seem to be more pervasive.
"We're talking about fireworks that I have to have a bomb tech go out and pick up," Skinner said.
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Phil Pinard, the city's interim parks and recreation director, said the amount of trash left behind in the city's riverfront parks, such as Howard Amon Park, also was on the rise and cost the city an estimated $4,000 to $6,000 to clean up.
"It was probably worse than the year before," he said. "It took our crews most of the day to clean up."
But neither Skinner nor Baynes was proposing that Richland join Kennewick and Pasco in banning the lighting of fireworks in town. Instead, they're asking the council to consider spending money on a public education campaign to better inform residents about what's legal and what isn't, and to pay a handful of police officers and firefighters overtime to patrol just for fireworks violations in the few days surrounding the holiday.
"I don't think either of us think a revision of the (city) code is necessary," Skinner said.
And most of the council members present at Tuesday's workshop said they wouldn't support a fireworks ban anyway.
Mayor Pro Tem David Rose -- who has been vocally against a fireworks ban every time it's come up within the last several years -- said he thinks the kinds of fireworks causing the most problems already are illegal, and that if Richland bans fireworks people would use them anyway.
"If we pass an ordinance we are not going to be able to enforce it," he said. "Personally I love fireworks. When I was a child around here, we lit off fireworks all the time."
Councilmen Terry Christensen and Brad Anderson concurred, while Councilwoman Sandra Kent said she was on the fence. Councilman Phil Lemley didn't advocate outright for a ban, but said "something needs to be done."
"Say next year we have 10 fires and three deaths. At what point do we say that's enough?" he said.
Skinner said that he acknowledges Richland will never eradicate the use of illegal fireworks, but can make a dent with an education campaign and stronger enforcement -- including aggressive confiscation when people are caught with illegal fireworks.
Confiscation would hit people in their pocketbooks even more than the $250 civil fine for using illegal fireworks, he argued.
"Most people exceed $250 in purchasing fireworks," Skinner said.
The consensus among the council was to talk more about education and enforcement as the city writes its 2013 budget.
w The council heard a presentation from Public Works Director Pete Rogalsky on a proposed 4.5 percent increase in water rates for all customer types. The department also is proposing to raise the cost of irrigation water. The amount of increase will vary by irrigation area. The council is expected to consider the irrigation increase at next Tuesday's meeting, while the water rate increase likely will be considered in October.