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Ideas For Tribal Fireworks

Editorial for March 4, 2004

The cities of Bingen and White Salmon have been wrestling with the unregulated sale of tribal fireworks for several years, and the issue is not going away any time soon.

The federal government protects the right of members of the Yakama Nation to be sovereign on tribal trust land. Locally, several properties are held in trust by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs for tribal members.

This creates a problem for the cities in two ways. First, local jurisdictions have no legal authority to regulate what happens on the tribal trust properties, including fireworks sales. As the land is essentially federal property, it is beyond the jurisdiction of the cities.

That means the fireworks -- even those that are illegal in the state of Washington -- can be sold from these properties. Yet once the buyer leaves the tribal trust land, the illegal fireworks are subject to confiscation by law enforcement authorities. That's screwy.

The most serious concern is the fire danger fireworks pose to neighborhoods. The properties in question are located in residential areas. Virtually all these fireworks are sold in late June and early July. Put it all together and what the cities have to contend with are flammable and explosive materials, the hot summer sun, and residences all around. It's a dangerous combination.

Perhaps the most effective way to make an impact would be to erect temporary signs near where the fireworks are being sold, to warn purchasers that fireworks not legal in Washington are subject to confiscation. Such a warning could deter many buyers, especially if there is some police enforcement now and then to put some teeth in that warning. Police certainly wouldn't have to be on hand all the time, but if they were to invest an hour a day or so in an enforcement campaign, the message would spread quickly.

Another possibility: the cities could draft an ordinance that prohibits seasonal signs that promote a specific business. Those signs pop up all over town in late June, and banning them would help reduce traffic to the tribal stands.

As a safety issue, the city also could prohibit the unloading of fireworks from city streets. This would be well within the city's jurisdiction.

One final point: The tribal stands undercut fireworks sales at the local Community Youth booths in White Salmon and Bingen. That makes it tougher for our young people to raise enough funds to upgrade ball fields or purchase new equipment, and that's a shame. Although most of the tribal sales may well be to out-of-towners, local citizens ought to make a point of purchasing fireworks at the Community Youth stands. The fireworks sold there are all legal in the state, and the proceeds stay right here and help our kids build up something very positive in our community.

It's unfortunate the tribal authorities have not responded to letters from the cities regarding this issue. There are ways to compromise here. No one wants a fire in a neighborhood. The Yakamas are trying to make money, and who can blame them for that? They also have a legal right to sell these goods from tribal property. But at the same time, the cities need to do what is within their power to minimize hazards to the neighborhoods. If fewer fireworks are sold, fewer will be brought in next time. That in itself will help reduce the safety concerns.

The cities need to get together and come up with a joint plan regarding tribal fireworks sales. With summer looming, now is the time to deal with this issue.

JB

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