Posted by: sweeneyblog | July 1, 2012

Banning Fireworks in Bellingham: Blast or Dud?

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Clay Butler, Rich Maneval, and Taimi Gorman who together form the backbone of Bellingham Initiative 1, concerning the regulation of consumer fireworks within the city. This initiative, which they hope will qualify for the November ballot, would ban the sale of consumer fireworks in Bellingham and institute a fine for people setting off fireworks within the city limits.


Butler outline how they got started on this effort. As a Fairhaven resident, he was frustrated and offended by the noise, trash and effects of the fireworks on his community, so he started talking, neighbor-to-neighbor, about what could be done. He spoke with Stan Snapp, former firefighter and current city councilmember, who recommended an initiative. So he gathered some friends and fellow ant-fireworks crusaders and started gathering signatures.

They need 5,000-7,000 signatures by mid-July, and when I talked to them in May, they had gathered just shy of 2,000, but they believe that they will make the deadline. “When the forth of July rolls around, people will remember why this is such a problem.”

Gorman toted some efforts in other areas where they have tried to ban fireworks. “There have been serious improvements in health costs where they have been banned. Spokane instituted a fine of $500 for anyone caught with a firework, and they have an Indian reservation right next to Spokane. They managed to keep the fireworks contained.”

But why not just a fine for reckless behavior? “Ban, ban, ban,” said Maneval. “We’ve had enough of that. Let’s limit fireworks to just the professionals.” The initiative would still allow for large scale community fireworks displays, just not the small consumer purchases.

But what if Haggan, who funded the fireworks display over the bay in the past, backs out in years to come. Gorman shrugs her shoulders. “Oh well. If everyone in town took they money they spent on fireworks and gave it to the chamber of commerce, I’m sure they could come up with something.” She pauses, thinking for a moment, then continues. “They used to handout cigarettes to people on a plane. You don’t have the right to make everyone in the neighborhood suffer because you want to blow stuff up.”

The group is well-versed in the effects of fireworks. Burns, air pollution, litter, scared pets, triggering of PTSD sufferers, strain on emergency services, they go through the litany of damages. My questions however, lead back to the economy.

Doesn’t the sale of fireworks, and corresponding fourth of july supplies, provide a significant boost to our economy? Gorman fires right back, “No. We’re not worried about damaging the local economy. It shouldn’t be a factor.” Butler follows that up, “You’ve got to start changing behavior somewhere.”

Butler notes that this will make enforcement that much easier for the police and firefighters. “If something goes off in a neighborhood, they can nab them right away and hit them with a fine, they don’t need to see if they are using legal fireworks or not, since all consumer fireworks will be illegal.”

I ask about the fundraising for this effort. Initiatives, especially community efforts, are notoriously shoe-string operations. Gorman points out that they sell buttons but, “no businesses are supporting us, we are a grassroots effort.”

Overall, it was an interesting interview. To be honest, I was struck by how politically tone-deaf the group seemed. They started from the position that everyone agrees with their efforts, and anyone who doesn’t must be a Tea Party freedom explosive nut. They literally laughed off my questions about the economy. While a fireworks ban seems to have some serious upsides, I am concerned about implementation and with the direction this initiative goes. Do we want to start handing out fines to highly supervised twelve-year-olds with bottle rockets? This was one of those cases where I walked into the interview ready to support their position, and left with doubts. I’m no fan of fireworks, but is this step necessary?

We will see if they qualify for the ballot, but I’m sure with all the explosives in the next couple of days, people will have their minds made up, one way or another.



  1. I personally don’t feel a big need to ban them.

  2. One of the people who where trying to get others to sign to get it on the ballot approached me last week at the farmers market. I agree with your feeling that they assume that everyone thinks that everyone agrees with them. They guy was really rude. When I tried to tell him that I am not against fire works he more or less told me to shut up and listen to him. I having never been approached for a ballot signing in such away did get quite out of shock. He then started to explain their point of view. Finally getting over my shock of his rudeness I told him straight up that I do not think there needs to be any kind of band and moved on quickly. From the sounds of it you did not have a much better experience. If I would have been at all interested in hearing their point of view before, I am with out a doubt not any more. I felt like the guy was trying to bully me into his point of view.

    • Interesting comment in that 2600 registered voters in our City have endorsed the petition to put the idea of limiting fireworks to professionally-staged, public displays

      • OOPS! to continue the above: before the electorate. Perhaps what you thought was “rudeness” was “passion”. Later . . .

      • He might have meant passion but it came off rude. I have lots of passion and I know it can come off rude, but when trying to get someone to see your side of the cause you cannot cross that line.

  3. Your article is an interesting review of our conversation, but not quite accurate in its presentation. We are indeed a very passionate group, but if you check on our reputations, we are not “politically tone deaf”, but experienced in numerous campaigns. My comment on the economy was meant to show that sales tax collected from fireworks booths are pretty minor compared to the amount of money the city has to spend on the fireworks problems it has currently ie: police and fire departments. I stand by my statement that the majority of Bellingham residents oppose fireworks in this city, and that those people are not always the loudest in their protests. While gathering signatures, we’ve come across many people ready and willing to sign and only a few that want to “die with their fireworks in their hands”. One man in particular had an amusing story about how he supports fireworks although his son had one explode on his chest. He thought it was funny. Council member, Stan Snapp, one of our staunchest supporters, tells the story of a young woman from WWU who died a few years ago because of a house fire caused by fireworks. He was working with the fire dept at the time. I would say to look past the little group you interviewed to the larger picture, and the fact that Bellingham is the last of 50 communities in Washington State who still allows this insanity. Thanks, Taimi Dunn Gorman

    • I agree that it is an area of concern. About the politically tone deaf comment, I know lots of people who have been involved in many campaigns who still don’t know how to approach an issue so that voters will listen. Experience does not equal expertise.

      That said, thank you for coming on here and adding to the article. I very much appreciate all our reader, and subjects to add anything they think I have missed.

  4. If the mess is such a problem, how about they focus on city sponsored cleanup or some such. Put a tax on the product to fund the effort. Seems a better choice than ruining everyone’s time because a few are put out for a short time.

  5. I’m sure the economic impact is minimal though I suspect the churches and nonprofits that use fireworks sales as fundraisers might have a different opinion.
    Still, fireworks are air, noise and probably water pollution and they scatter plastic bits around the place. I think they should be banned completely. . . Excuse me, I got a chase a dog off my lawn.

    • Mr. Sweeney, well stated. Please seek out and sign a petition to get the idea of leaving fireworks to the professionals on the November ballot. Later . . .

  6. To the people somewhere to the west of Sunset Drive and Ellis who were blowing up big boomers with colorful flowers cascading across the sky until past my bed time last night… THANKS… It was a great show!

    The alternative? Go out during the officially designated four hours or so allowed by the legislative authorities to wave sissy fireworks around to celebrate a document that would get one arrested for sedition if one reads it on the courthouse steps under a law grotesquely labelled the Patriot Act signed by a president people mistakenly called a conservative.

    To the people somewhere to the west of Sunset Drive…. could you blow up a couple more tonight?

  7. […] fireworks ban will get a public hearing June 3rd at 7pm in the City Council Chambers. Last year, I interviewed some of the proponents of the ban and was seriously underwhelmed, however I remain open-minded. If it passes, we will see if it is […]

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