Local News

Volunteer, activist groups brace for another Fourth with fireworks

Fireworks explode over the Columbia River during an official fireworks display in Astoria, Ore., in 2019. In Washington, consumer fireworks ignited by tourists and others on the beach have been a longtime source of concern and frustration for some residents and volunteer groups. Katie Frankowicz/KMUN

LONG BEACH, Wash. — Fourth of July on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula is often chaotic.

If the weather is good, or even decent, and the holiday falls on or around a weekend, it can be very busy.

In one memorable year, the holiday fell on a Saturday and the weather was perfect.

As many as 100,000 people descended on the famously long beach for the Fourth in 2015. One man died under suspicious circumstances at a party on the beach and numerous calls about public drunkenness and assaults kept emergency responders busy while revelers set off fireworks during what had been an extremely dry spring and summer.

Officials later said they were lucky there hadn’t been any drownings, relatively few injuries and no big fires.

Long Beach City Administrator David Glasson put it another way at the time. “We escaped,” he told The Chinook Observer, referring to the fire danger that year.

But the beach was covered in litter. As is usual, volunteer groups cleared tons of garbage away.

For residents concerned about safety and the environmental impact of the fireworks and trash Fourth of July visitors leave behind, enough was enough.

So local groups who had pushed for change for years were jubilant this month when the Long Beach City Council voted to pass an ordinance that would ban the sale and discharge of consumer fireworks in city limits beginning in 2023.

Nearby Ilwaco had already passed such a ban and Long Beach and unincorporated areas of Pacific County were poised to set limits on the sale and use of fireworks.

But there was barely time to celebrate before the bad news arrived this week: Due to notification requirements and an error in timing, the Long Beach ban would not take effect next year until the day after the Fourth of July holiday. The earliest a ban could impact the Fourth itself would be in 2024.

It was a huge disappointment, says Shelby Mooney with Better Beaches and Byways, a group of activists that were instrumental in pushing for the ban.

“And so,” she said, “we’re going to have to figure out how do we accomplish what we want to get done which is to protect the beaches and the wildlife and the residential community you know people in their homes.”

Mooney is adamant they will continue their work; they’re just in shock right now.

Of course, the city ban wouldn’t have impacted what people could do on the beaches, which are under the state’s jurisdiction.

Better Beaches and Byways and volunteer clean up groups like the GrassRoots Garbage Gang hope to change what happens on the beach eventually. But, for now — this year and probably next year — they’re planning for more of the same.

They’ll pass out garbage bags and stage dumpsters at beach approaches. The next day, they’ll patrol the beach on foot and in vehicles, trying to pick up all the trash they can before a high tide drags it out to the ocean.

“I would just hope that everyone would be a good steward of the beach and take personal responsibility and bring extra bags, share that with their neighbors on the beach and leave a nice clean space so other people see them picking up,” said Shelly Pollock is with GrassRoots Garbage Gang. “It inspires others to do the same.”

Kathleen Davies, a volunteer with Better Beaches and Byways, agrees. But she’s also hoping for rain.