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SPOTLIGHT
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Ban on fireworks

Published on -6/29/2014, 12:58 PM

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Independence Day is less than a week away, yet residents of Ellis County are not making plans to purchase and use fireworks. The reason is simple: Local governing bodies have banned them for the third straight year.

While we have supported such decisions in the past because of safety issues, we must admit surprise that the drought is being blamed for the continued ban.

There is no doubt we remain in serious condition. The most recent map produced by the U.S. Drought Monitor reveals a small portion of southern Ellis County remains in extreme drought, about a third of the county in severe drought status, and slightly more than half in moderate drought status. As that map is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, we do not question the gravity of the local situation.

And, despite the fact we have had plenty of rain during the past month, the wellfields are not recharging. At least not yet. Raising the water tables underground will take months, if not years, of continued precipitation. The drought is still on, so all the conservation efforts in play should continue.

It is an entirely different picture on the ground's surface. Ellis County Emergency Management announced on its Facebook page Friday its unofficial total for June was 9.75 inches. More rain was expected during the weekend and again mid-week.

The rain is having an effect in the area. It was enough in early June for Ellis County Rural Fire Director Richard Klaus to lift the burn ban. It has been enough to cause delays on street repair projects. It has been enough to prompt mowing crews to hit the median on Interstate 70. And in case anybody hadn't noticed, it has been enough to green up even the most bindweed-choked patches of buffalo grass. The entire city of Hays is green, and it hasn't been because of sprinkler systems.

The risk of allowing fireworks to be used in Ellis County likely is the lowest in at least a decade. Residents grumbling about the ban have logic, common sense and rain gauges to support their position.

"To me, it's absolutely insane -- in my opinion -- that we're not having them this year because of all the rain we've had," said Hays City Commissioner Shaun Musil.

It is too bad Musil represents the minority position, at least as far as elected officials are concerned. When considering the entire community, we would guess Musil is more in line with the majority.

As the decisions already are made for 2014, we would hope city and county officials next year examine the ground conditions a little closer. Undoubtedly we'll remain in a drought in 2015, but elected leaders need to remember fireworks fall on the ground -- not into aquifers. The same goes for staff. The county office that lifted the burn ban had recommended keeping the fireworks ban, while city employees thought the ban was the best course of action even though it pointed out "the recent rains have mitigated the potential of fire hazard for now."

Fireworks enthusiasts could use some reminders as well moving forward. First off, pyrotechnics have not been part of the July 4 tradition since the country's inception. Second, you're not being stripped of personal liberties simply because you can't light a firecracker. And know there is no comparison between a controlled environment such as the Wild West Festival fireworks show with all the trained firefighters and equipment strategically placed -- and any other situation. This is not a double standard; it's the safest method possible to allow local residents to view a spectacular display.

Let us all get through this Fourth of July safely, sanely, and resolved to approach next year with less passion and more common sense.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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