Guard douses fireworks decision

Mayor emailed veto to councilors following Monday night vote

Washougal Mayor Sean Guard

Washougal Mayor Sean Guard vetoed a city council decision to ban the use of personal fireworks in Washougal this week.

The Washougal City Council voted 4-3 Monday night to ban the use of personal fireworks, with councilors Brent Boger, Paul Greenlee, Joyce Lindsay and Dave Shoemaker voting in favor of the ban.

About 45 minutes after the council meeting adjourned, Guard emailed city councilors saying he was vetoing the vote.

Guard said in that email that he does not believe the majority of Washougal residents want fireworks to go away completely.

“I firmly believe that the celebration of the Fourth of July, and New Year’s Eve, is appropriate with some reasonable level of reverie,” Guard stated. “I do agree with Councilmember Coursey that most of what I hear from people is that they want the noise and the mess to go away. I believe the reasonable, friendly enjoyment of small neighborhood and individual firework use is part of the fiber of our community.”

Guard, the executive director of Columbia River Veterans Organization, said by phone on Tuesday, he has no doubt that Washougal has some veterans who have challenges during the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve.

“We also have veterans who tell me that is not the majority of veterans,” he said. “The majority of veterans who have post-traumatic stress, I’m told, do not have big issues with fireworks.”

Guard mentioned a veteran friend who has post-traumatic stress disorder from experiencing hard landings in helicopters.

“He loves the Fourth of July and blows things up,” Guard said. “I have no doubt that there are people, including vets, who do not react well to fireworks that blow up. If you completely ban fireworks, it will not stop people from blowing things up.”

It is illegal in Washington State, except on Native American Indian reservations, to discharge firecrackers, bottle rockets, sky rockets and missiles, M-80s, M-100s, improvised explosive devices and altered fireworks.

The City Council could override Guard’s veto of the complete ban on the use of personal fireworks during the next regular council meeting, at 7 p.m., Monday, Nov. 13, in the council chambers at City Hall, 1701 “C” St. It would take five “yes” votes to override the mayor’s veto.

The council also could reconsider an ordinance that would allow the use of “safe and sane” fireworks. Those include cylindrical and cone fountains, sparklers, ground spinners, novelties, wheels and smoke devices.

The council’s 1-6 vote for the use of safe and sane fireworks did not pass. Councilman Paul Greenlee voted in favor of it.

Guard said he would not veto an ordinance that allows for safe and sane fireworks use.

“I would rather see how a year or two of additional restrictions may help to get us to an option that is widely accepted and still eliminates most of the loud, objectionable noises,” he stated, in the email to council members.

Boger voted for the ban, knowing that it would be subject to referendum.

“If there is that much discontent (about the ban, by voters), I will honor and respect that,” he said.

Bill Durgan, a father of an Army veteran daughter and a daughter in the Navy, said Tuesday morning he was working on a petition to reverse the city council’s vote to ban fireworks. He was not aware of the mayor’s veto of the ban, at that time.

Durgan said his family members who have served in the military enjoy the Fourth of July celebrations.

“I am not saying I do not think pets or vets are affected by the noise, but I am saying vets past and present have fought for our rights to choose, to vote,” Durgan said. “I do not believe the people here are in favor of a ban, I think the city council is. If you go around town in Washougal on the Fourth of July, nearly every home is celebrating. I am not convinced all those people suddenly are against fireworks.”

City Councilwoman Michelle Wagner said she feared that banning the use of personal fireworks in Washougal would drive residents out of town and into surrounding forests, “where dry debris is dense and plentiful.”

After the council’s vote to ban the personal use of fireworks, Gloria Lionz described her neighborhood by Washougal High School as a war zone for a week before and four to five days following the Fourth of July holiday.

She said she is concerned for her neighbors’ children, who run into the street to pick up spent fireworks in smoky conditions. Another neighbor gets on his roof to hose it down during the Independence Day holiday, Lionz said.

The City Council had considered an amended version of the ban that would have allowed the city to sponsor an area where consumer fireworks could be used under the supervision of the Camas-Washougal fire chief or his representative.

That amendment failed by a vote of 2-5, with Wagner and Dave Shoemaker voting in favor of the amended ordinance.

If the council overrides Guard’s veto on Nov. 13, Washougal voters who oppose the ban would need to collect 1,444 valid signatures on a referendum petition. That would result in a special election in February or April of 2018.

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