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Bingen works on fireworks ban; no decisions reached

Councilmen divided over proposed ordinance

A proposal to ban fireworks in the city of Bingen is still under discussion, although the details of a possible ordinance appear far from being resolved.

At last week's meeting of the Bingen City Council, there was a split over whether the proposal was going too far. There was also disagreement over how strict to make the penalties for those found in violation.

One version of the proposed ordinance would ban the use of sparklers on the user's private property, and that brought objections from two council members.

"I think this is a little too restrictive," said Terry Trantow. "I'd like to prohibit only aerial fireworks."

Mayor Brian Prigel said he too believed the initial proposal looked "harsh."

"I have mixed feelings on this. It seems too restrictive," Prigel said. "I also have concerns with the penalties. It's immediately a misdemeanor, and goes before a judge. This is a pretty harsh transition from what has been to what will be. Those are my concerns, but it's up to the council."

The proposed ordinance would not ban the sale of local fireworks, and it would also be contingent upon residents having a nearby place set aside for fireworks displays. In July 2003, a portion of the Port of Klickitat's Bingen Point property was used as a place to use fireworks, and that land is expected to be available again next year.

Councilor Randy Anderson said he too believed the proposed ban was too strong.

"I agree with Terry that this is too restrictive," Anderson said. "It's the aerial stuff that causes the fires. This is too restrictive, and the penalties are too severe."

City attorney Anthony Connors said the ordinance could be altered to make the penalties less severe.

"Police officers will typically resolve violations with a verbal warning to prevent the hazard, but they need to have the stick there as well," added Mayor Prigel.

Council Laura Mann said she supported the proposed fireworks ban, but agreed the penalties could be reduced.

"The point of having a fine versus making it a crime is valid," Mann said. "I feel the violation section needs to be reworked. It would be too costly for the city if we take everyone to court. But I am for a fireworks prohibition."

Trantow countered that he could not agree to penalize people for setting off non-aerial fireworks on their own property.

"I don't support that," Trantow said.

Prigel said the council needed to look at two different questions in drawing up a workable ordinance.

"Do we prohibit all fireworks or some fireworks, and what is the penalty," he said. "The concern seems to be, make it an infraction and not a crime."

Prigel added that it would be very difficult for law enforcement officers to distinguish between "aerial" and "ground" fireworks.

"I think this is a major change for this town. But if we prohibit, I think we have to prohibit all fireworks except sparklers. I don't know how you draw the line between ground and aerial fireworks," Prigel explained.

Two council members -- Jeanette Fentie and Laura Mann -- supported banning all fireworks except sparklers.

Randy Anderson and Terry Trantow wanted to ban aerial fireworks only.

Trantow wondered where Bingen residents would go to use their fireworks if Bingen banned displays within the city limits.

"Where will people set them off?" Trantow asked.

"White Salmon," joked Connors.

Councilors agreed to a stepped enforcement plan that would basically work like this: first offense would bring confiscation of the fireworks and a warning; a second offense would bring confiscation and a fine; and a third offense could bring misdemeanor charges.

The council also split on how much to fine those in violation.

Prigel suggested $50 for a first offense, but Mann thought that might not be enough to be a deterrent.

"Go higher," Mann said. "They spend $50 on fireworks easy."

Prigel suggested $50 would be enough for a first offense, but said it could then go to $150 for a second violation.

The council did not reach any firm decisions on the proposed ordinance, and the issue will be on the agenda at upcoming meetings.

The Bingen City Council meets on the first and third Tuesdays each month at 7 p.m. The meetings are held at Bingen City Hall.


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