Hawaii County seeks authority to restrict fireworks
By Nancy Cook Lauer
West Hawaii Today
HILO — A resolution asking the state for county authority to temporarily restrict fireworks during emergencies squeaked through the Hawaii County Council on Wednesday.
The 6-3 vote came amid concerns from dissenters that the county would have the power to ban a culturally significant practice with little justification on health and safety grounds. Fewer than six votes would have killed the measure.
South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford sponsored the resolution after she discovered the Hawaii County Fire Department had no authority to restrict News Year's fireworks in her district, despite heavy vog and a brushfire that had darkened skies for weeks.
"It gives us no latitude during an emergency and that's what we had in Kona," Ford said of the state law.
"This is not a fireworks ban," she added.
If the county moves fast, there's a chance the state Legislature could still consider such a provision in the current legislative session. At least two fireworks-related bills are still alive at the midpoint of the session this week.
The resolution has the support of Fire Chief Darryl Oliveira.
"We are very sensitive to the cultural component of fireworks within our county, but we want to maintain a balance with health and safety issues," Oliveira said.
Those assurances didn't satisfy Hamakua Councilman Dominic Yagong or Hilo Councilmen Donald Ikeda and Dennis Onishi. They worried the provisions were too broad and could greatly restrict the legal use of fireworks.
"You could see that this is something that could turn out to be a ban," Yagong said.
Ikeda said the main problem with fireworks is the use of illegal ones. He said enforcement would solve the problem, not more rules.
"I'm a fireworks guy. ... It's pretty safe. It's just the illegal guys," Ikeda said. "A lot of things go down to enforcement."
State law is clear that counties have little to no authority when it comes to fireworks: "Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, no county shall enact ordinances or adopt any rules regulating fireworks or articles pyrotechnic, except as required in this chapter, that is inconsistent with or more restrictive than, the provisions of this chapter."
That didn't make sense to North Kona Councilman Kelly Greenwell.
"I find it difficult to believe that the Hawaii County Fire Department does not have a provision for making emergency decisions," Greenwell said.
Ford's resolution asks the state Legislature to give all counties, not just Hawaii County in particular, more flexibility. She said other counties' fire chiefs have also asked for more flexibility.
"Let us get this up to the state," Ford said. "Please don't play roulette with people's health anymore."