Council considers tightening fireworks regs

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Thousands gather at City Beach for the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce’s annual Fourth of July fireworks show over Whitefish Lake. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

Whitefish City Council is considering a move that could temper the spark of private fireworks allowed in the city around the Fourth of July.

Council last week seemed to be leaning toward restricting which fireworks would be allowed in the city, while also increasing a fine for those who violate the ordinance. Council discussed the issue during a work session, and would still need to hold a public hearing and vote on any changes to its ordinance.

“I’m conflicted about this,” Councilor Melissa Hartman said. “They are a nuisance and create noise, but I’m also not sure it rises to the level of banning them all together. I can appreciate that these are family traditions of lighting fireworks.”

Councilor Ryan Hennen said he would likely support a middle ground between allowing all private fireworks and banning them all together.

“I think allowing things like the snakes and sparklers that kids like to play with makes sense,” he said. “I think it’s OK to keep the smaller fireworks around.”

Some said they would be interested in revising the Whitefish ordinance to be similar to the Missoula city ordinance that allows for the discharge of “novelties.” Those include party poppers, snappers, toy smoke devices, snakes and glow worms and sparklers, according to the city of Missoula’s website.

Currently, personal fireworks can be used in Whitefish between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. on July 3 and 4 under the city ordinance. Fines for violating the city ordinance are $300 for the first offense and $500 or imprisonment for subsequent offense. Whitefish also allows the sale of fireworks within the city from noon to 8 p.m. on July 2-4.

A draft ordinance before Council showed the fine increasing to $500 for the first and subsequence offenses for those violating the ordinance.

Professional displays of fireworks are allowed at anytime by obtaining a special permit from the city. Council said it would likely continue that practice, but would support a ban on “concussion” fireworks that create the loudest noise during professional displays.

Police Chief Bill Dial issued a caution to Council regarding the fireworks ordinance, noting that officers are already stretched thin around the Fourth of July holiday.

“We get a pretty significant number of calls relating to fireworks and more when the Fourth of July falls on the weekend,” he said. “Whatever you adopt is not going to stop it, but no matter what you decide we will do the best we can.”

Reactions to fireworks in the city were mixed during public comment at the work session.

Toby Scott asked Council to continue to allow private and professional fireworks in the city.

“I don’t think you want to squash the celebration of the Fourth of July,” he said.

“It’s one time of year,” said Koel Abell. “Please don’t ban fireworks.”

Angel Dominguez said she doesn’t have an issue with professional displays, but asked for a ban on private usage because of the fire danger associated with fireworks.

“It just doesn’t make sense for our city,” she said.

The issue surrounding fireworks has come up many times over the years, but most recently came to forefront again in September when neighbors on Whitefish Lake complained to Council after being awakened by fireworks as part of a wedding celebration. A permit for the fireworks display was granted by the city.

Following complaints, City Council decided to look at its ordinance to see if adjustments were necessary.

Council also said it would consider revising the ordinance to ban the sale of fireworks inside city limits.

City Clerk Michelle Howke said it has been several years since anyone has obtained a license to sell fireworks in the city.

Columbia Falls and Kalispell both don’t allow the use of fireworks. Flathead County allows for fireworks to be shot off on personal property, but they are banned from use in county and state parks.

Council directed city staff to return with a revised ordinance pertaining to fireworks.

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