Drone Pilot SchoolBend city councilors unanimously approve permanent fireworks ban

October 7, 2021by helo-10

(Update: Council decision, comments, public comments)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — Bend city councilors voted unanimously Wednesday night to make permanent a temporary ban on the use and sale of fireworks, after hearing public comments from a few concerned about the impacts on fundraising churches and nonprofits and other issues.

There is currently a temporary restriction on the use of fireworks in Bend that expires in December. In response to an extreme heat wave in late June, drought conditions and high fire danger, the city issued an emergency declaration that included a ban on the use of fireworks. Those restrictions on use did not prohibit sales, which under state law can only occur between June 23 and July 6 each year.

In August and September, the City Council held work sessions to consider the issues and learn how other cities have approached similar questions.

The new ordinance permanently bans fireworks use and sales in Bend, with an exception for certain permitted public displays such as the annual show off of Pilot Butte.

“Safety is a priority emphasized again and again by community members in City of Bend polling,” said Mayor Sally Russell. “Recognizing the need to keep some part of annual celebrations which include fireworks, community fireworks displays approved by Bend Fire & Rescue and the Oregon Fire Marshall will continue to be permitted.” 

For many nonprofits and churches in Bend, the sale of fireworks leading up to the Fourth of July celebration has been pivotal to raising funds for charity projects, summer school programs and donations.

But after an extreme heat wave in late June, exacerbating existing drought conditions and a fire danger, the cty issued an emergency declaration that included a ban on the sale and use of fireworks.

The restriction was continued through a separate emergency declaration, which was to be in effect through Dec. 1.

Assistant City Attorney Ian Leitheiser gave a brief presentation and noted the Class A civil infraction would bring a possible fine of up to $750.

He also noted the ordinance wont cover certain “exempt fireworks” allowed statewide, such as very small “smoky snakes,” noisemakers and caps for cap guns. Sparklers, however, are among the items that can no longer be sold or used in Bend.

After Wednesday night’s first reading, the ordinance faces a second reading at the next meeting and will take effect 30 days after that, in late November.

Russell said they received 30 emails on the matter, six against and 22 in support of the move. One suggested the city do a drone show, instead of fireworks and another said it should be put to a public vote.

Speakers noted the impacts on fundraising for nonprofits, with one, Ed Forsythe, president of Discount Fireworks Superstore, saying the ban could cause more fires by pushing people into more wooded areas outside the city to light them, perhaps the more hazardous aerial burst illegal in Oregon.

Jason Trout of TNT Fireworks asked the council to delay the vote and establish a task force with all affected stakeholders, also noting that 53% of those taking part in this week’s KTVZ.COM Poll were against a ban. He urged letting fire officials impose fireworks bans or restrictions based on current weather conditions. And the company also was involved in creating a website to that effect, at https://savebends4th.com/

Councilor Barb Campbell said many in the community had been lobbying for the move for years, as well as neighborhood associations.

“I have no long-standing grudge against fireworks,” she said, adding that she’s “not completely opposed” if someone were to propose a plan for New Year’s Eve, for example. “That would need to come from the community,” she said, but for now, of the ban, she said. “I sincerely believe this is in everyone’s beset interest.”

Russell said, “It just takes one random firework that can start a major, major event,” such as the Eagle Creek Fire a few years ago that devastated a wide area of the Columbia River Gorge, where a young person tossed a small firework into the forest.

Critics of the move said the permanent ban could make things difficult for church leaders like Mark Gering, the lead pastor for Faith Christian Center in Bend, who has raised upwards of $20,000 annually in charitable funds through the sale of fireworks.

Gering and other leaders were hoping that councilors will delay the vote.

“We’d like to have more time to study this decision, as far as maybe banning fireworks, and take a deeper look into the ramifications of this decision,” Gering said.

Gering said their fireworks sales have been beneficial for helping fund youth programs throughout the community.

“I’m sure the funds will be replaced somehow. I can’t say in the moment what that would look like, because this has been so significant,” Gering said. To find a fundraiser that is equal to that is a challenge.”

Gering says he feels the decision is a bit of an overreaction.

“There are so many other things that are legal but still require responsible use to do well,” Gering said. “There are many things in our society, like drinking alcohol or even driving a car that are legal, but people do irresponsible things, hurt others and do damage with something that’s legal.”

Gering says he’s concerned that fireworks are being singled out due to the actions of a few.

“To just single this out because of the actions of a few people seems a little harsh,” Gering said. “Maybe a little heavy-handed.”

Another pastor who expressed concern, Jack Dennis of Believers Cornerstone Fellowship Church, has been operating a nonprofit fireworks stand for 15 years, to benefit local charities.

Dennis says he believes this decision shows that councilors can have “power without the people.”

Dennis says that fireworks safety has always been a point of emphasis during the sales process, and he wants to know the council’s motivation behind the decision.

“What leg are they standing on?” Dennis said. “I don’t have a vote — we don’t have a vote.”

Dennis says the church has donated Christmas gifts, paid rent for families, and has even helped those struggling addiction problems with the funds from fireworks sales.

Others like Forsythe, the lead pastor of Bethel Community Church, called in during the public comments portion of the meeting to express his concerns.

“I would like to ask everyone to think about the problem,” Forsythe said. “I really believe it would cause more fires, because people would be illegally doing it on the outside of the city, in the wooded areas.”

Forsythe believes the ban could possibly escalate the issue.

“Now on top of that, I believe a lot more people would bring in aerials, which has rockets and things like that,” Forsythe said.

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