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Fireworks referendum qualifies for ballot; council has option to cancel ordinance

In June, the County Council approved a ban on safe-and-sane fireworks, to take effect 12 months later.

Thanks to a referendum, voters may get a chance to challenge that ban.

The county auditor's office has certified Referendum 2008-2 as qualified for the November 2009 ballot.

"The San Juan County Elections Office has verified signatures on petitions submitted by Fireworks Unrestricted LLC and its representative sponsor, Don Burkhart, a registered voter of San Juan County," Auditor Milene Henley wrote in her letter of certification.

"Of 1,915 signatures submitted, 1,647 were found to be valid; 1,522 were required for certification ... I hereby certify the petition to be valid. Unless other action is taken by Council prior to that time, Referendum 2008-2 will appear on the November 2009 general election ballot."

The referendum is the second to qualify for the ballot since the county charter was adopted by voters in 2005, giving them that right. A referendum submits an existing law to public vote. The charter also gives voters the right to place initiatives on the ballot. An initiative is a legislative measure proposed by the public.

“We had 1,600 signatures in the first 30 days (by Labor Day), but continued to gather ‘insurance signatures’ for another month to ensure success,” said Burkhart, the referendum's sponsor and a resident of Blakely Island.

“That shortened time frame demonstrates the broad level of support our effort enjoyed. Council would do well to recognize that their ban is a real dud, and that San Juan County voters demand a say-so in any curtailment of their personal freedom.”

The measure will not go on the ballot if the council cancels the ordinance. Burkhart said he hopes the council does so. In its place, he proposes a new "designated areas" ordinance, prohibiting the ignition of fireworks in fire-prone forested and vegetated areas, as locally identified by each island.

“There are two critical principles that must be observed. First and foremost, the voters of San Juan County must be the ones who make this decision," Burkhart said in a press release.

"Secondly, San Juan County is unique in its makeup as a number of distinct islands each with its own individual situation. What’s a problem in Friday Harbor may not even exist elsewhere. We all chafe when the Fed or State comes to us with a one-size-fits-all solution. Is it so difficult to understand that the same is true downstream? Local control is not being incorporated into the governance of San Juan County, and this desperately needs to change.”

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