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Bingen: solutions needed in sale of tribal fireworks

Mayor says sales are hanger, hazard to neighbors

It's just March, but concerns about the annual sale of fireworks on unregulated Yakama tribal properties are already sprouting.

Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel said he wants the City Council to consider possible ways to resolve the issue, which relates to the local sale of fireworks -- including fireworks that are not legal in the state of Washington.

"What's allowed in Washington is relatively tame compared to what the Yakama Nation allows," Prigel explained.

No city business license is required for the fireworks sales, even though the properties are within the city limits of Bingen.

Mayor Prigel pointed out that tribal trust land is not subject to city ordinances.

"Basically, it's considered the Yakama Nation by the federal government," Prigel explained.

"The property is held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for an individual tribal member or a tribe," said Jan Brending, Bingen city clerk. "It's owned by the federal government."

Prigel said he was particularly concerned about the possibility of a serious fire.

"We have little fire control, no parking, and it's a danger and a hazard to neighbors," Prigel said. "It's not good to have a fireworks stand in the middle of a residential area, and we don't want fireworks stands in the middle of a residential area."

According to Prigel, however, enforcing any restrictions on the tribal fireworks sales is not an easy proposition.

"We don't have the legal authority to regulate fireworks sales on those properties," Prigel said. "Enforcing is difficult. Maybe we could put up a big sign saying `beware, fireworks purchased here are liable for seizure once you cross this line.'"

Prigel also pointed out that the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department is not equipped to focus on this issue.

"Can we afford to have an officer stationed there [by the stands]?" Prigel questioned.

The city first formally addressed this issue in the summer of 2000. At that time, Anthony Connors, attorney for the city of Bingen, sent a letter addressed to the Yakama Nation in Toppenish.

"In the past, the Nation has issued permits for the sale of fireworks on certain trust properties in Bingen," Connors wrote in a letter dated June 16, 2000. "Accordingly, the city is concerned that the Nation will do so again for this Fourth of July. The city would appreciate it if you do not issue permits for the sale of fireworks in Bingen. Although the question as to whether those permits are valid in Bingen may be an open question, the sale of those fireworks creates a number of problems for the city, and would not be otherwise authorized. Thus, the city may take such action as it deems appropriate and lawful to discourage the sale of fireworks from trust lands within the municipal boundaries of Bingen."

Connors said there was no response to the letter.

"We've had not very good luck in communication with the Yakama Nation," Prigel said. "It's a thorny issue that will take federal legislation or have to work its way through the federal courts. Other cities in the state have similar issues, and it's not just fireworks."

Prigel said it was an issue that doesn't appear to be going away.

"We need to explore options to at least contain this situation," he said. "If we try to attack this, we need to start now. I'm concerned about taking this on head on, and butting heads with the Yakama Nation. At some point, this needs to be addressed at the federal level."

However, Prigel noted that there were other ways to have an impact.

"One thing to do would be to modify our sign ordinance," explained Prigel. "The current sign ordinance does not address temporary signs. Maybe our biggest impact would be to regulate the signage they put on the street. Probably the most cost-effective way is to address the off-premises signs, and put up our own signs warning folks that not all these fireworks are legal."

According to property records at Bingen City Hall, Bingen has two sites where fireworks are sold: at the corner of Pine and Humboldt, and at 719 E. Humboldt.

There are also two sites in White Salmon, according to Margie Ziegler at White Salmon City Hall: 621 NE Wauna, and 228 SE Wyers Street.

Some residents have also expressed concern that the tribal sales take money away from local groups, including Little League.

"We're trying to get the locals to give their money to Little Leaguers instead of these other guys," Ziegler explained.

David Garwood, chair of the Community Youth organization, said the fundraising stands his group puts out are seeing a drastic reduction in sales.

"In years past, we'd take in $3,000-$5,000," Garwood said. "Last year we got $500. We took a huge hit. Partly that's from the construction in Bingen. But we have kids who come to our stands and ask for such and such fireworks, and we can't sell those, so they jet down to the other stands."

Garwood said they may have to try a different approach to fundraising.

"We voted to try it for one more year," he explained.

Garwood added that the Community Youth proceeds stay in the community.

"At least it goes back to the community and people have something for their dollar," Garwood said. "We're trying to build a new girls' concession stand and a lot of things for the baseball field were planned, but no money was there. We also needed to buy some equipment this year, and there was no chance."

White Salmon Mayor Linda Jones said she would be discussing the issue with other local officials later in March.

"I'm meeting with the Port of Klickitat's Dianne Sherwood and Wil Keyser [White Salmon Public Works director], and I'm sure it will come up then," Jones said.

Legal counsel for the Yakama Tribal Council in Toppenish did not return telephone calls seeking comment.


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