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Florence considers fireworks ban.

Byline: Winston Ross The Register-Guard

FLORENCE - Second maybe to Rhododendron Days, the Fourth of July is just about the biggest weekend of the year for tourist traffic in Florence, capped off with a fireworks show launched from a barge out on the Siuslaw River.

People flock to Old Town and its docks by the thousands, bringing food, libations and chairs to watch the show. And, as they're waiting, they tend to set off a few sparklers, smoke balls, cracker snaps and party poppers of their own.

This year, the sparklers may have to stay at home.

Florence's City Council is looking at banning personal fireworks in Old Town, on the heels of a decision last year by the Port of Siuslaw's board of commissioners to nix pyrotechnics on the port-owned boardwalk and in its parking lot.

The prospect has grown so controversial that those widely credited with initiating the idea are backing slowly away from it. But, on the first reading of the proposed ordinance, three council members voted in favor of it, two against it.

That did not sit well with Michele Douglass, who owns Splash, a clothing boutique on Bay Street. Each Fourth, she keeps the store open until just before dark and then gathers her employees on the deck outside to watch the fireworks. It's a big holiday, and she's worried about the repercussions of a ban.

"How can you take a sparkler away from a little kid?" Douglass said. "Lets just take away one more thing we use to celebrate our independence."

The debate originated at the port, where officials, including commissioner John Buchanan - also the town's fire chief - voted to ban fireworks on port property, which includes the docks and the parking lot.

"You don't have that smoke, the taste, the smell and the mess," said Buchanan, although he quickly adds he wasn't a "champion" of the rule change.

The problem with the port's ban is that it was unenforceable because the port has no policing authority, Florence Mayor Phil Brubaker said. So the council began a discussion of its own, about whether to set a full-fledged ordinance in place.

Brubaker said he just wants to see an ordinance banning fireworks on port property, which would give the town's authorities the teeth to enforce it. But his colleagues on the council say they want it to apply to all of Old Town.

Councilor Nola Xavier says a port-only ban would just push fireworks off port property and into the rest of Old Town.

"It's a small, dense district, and the potential for someone to be harmed by what happens down there is increased by a ban on port property," Xavier said. "This is an old district; these are small wooden structures. We have a problem sitting there waiting for it to be a disaster. I think we're asking for someone to get hurt."

Buchanan also argues that it's impossible to enforce illegal fireworks when there are legal fireworks on site, because it's too hard for law enforcement officials to distinguish between the two.

But to some Old Town merchants, that's backward logic, and the concern is misplaced.

Jay Cable owns the Bridgeport Market, on the east side of the port property, which fronts the river where the fireworks show takes place. He figures people will gather there as they always do, fireworks ban or no. But he said it is ridiculous that the city is considering snuffing out a legal product in Old Town.

"There's not a safety issue, or they'd be cracking down on the illegal fireworks," said Cable, who added that that hasn't happened. "Now, my kid could be sitting in front of my store with a sparkler, and I could get a fine?"

Douglass showed up at the April 5 council meeting to protest, along with several other merchants, only to watch the council table the decision - putting it off not to the following meeting but to June 7.

Banning legal fireworks on the Fourth of July is one thing, Florence Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kady Sneddon said. Providing three weeks notice to get the word out is another.

"We don't want folks not knowing about this, coming down here and getting a bad taste in their mouths," she said.

Xavier said she wanted to postpone the decision until June 7 because it would allow proponents of the ban - none of whom have shown up to testify at either of the two council meetings where the issue has been discussed - to "get their act together."

Brubaker said he went along with the delay because he recognized that he was in the minority; voting at the last council meeting would have meant that a ban he disagreed with would have passed, he said.

"If you have the votes, vote," Brubaker said. "If you don't, talk."

The problem with June 7, though, is that ordinances take 30 days to become law, which means the council would have to declare an emergency for this to take effect by Independence Day.

Xavier said she could live with the ban not affecting this year's celebration.
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Title Annotation:Government Local; Old Town merchants are upset by a proposal they fear will be a disappointment to tourists
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 17, 2010
Previous Article:Buzzworthy.

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