|House Majority Leader Wayne Scott faces a firestorm over what he's done in the Legislature for his fireworks company.|
For the past three years, small Oregon fireworks companies say they've been reduced to ashes by one politically connected competitor.
The company is Western Fireworks, whose president is House Majority Leader Wayne Scott (R-Canby), this week's Rogue.
Whether you stock up on sparklers this Fourth of July or snag a seat at bigger-boom displays, the company supplying the fireworks will probably be Scott's, which claims to be Oregon's largest.
But some of Scott's smaller competitors say he has long abused his power in the Legislature to cement his company's position of dominance while leaving them struggling to stay afloat. Here's how:
In the 2003 Legislature, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 667-A, a seemingly innocuous bill dealing with nonagricultural operations on land zoned for exclusive farm use.
The bill included an amendment from Scott that lets his aerial fireworks company, which puts on Fourth of July shows at venues such as the Blues Festival on the Willamette and Oaks Park, operate regularly on farmland instead of needing to get temporary-use permits each year from local authorities. Typical fireworks operations on farmland that require permits include storing fireworks as well as testing, shipping or directly selling them.
But the bill applied only to aerial fireworks companies in continuous operation on land zoned for exclusive farm use since Dec. 31, 1986. And Western was the only business that met that standard, according to at least two legislators who voted for SB667-A, Sen. Gary George (R-McMinnville) and Rep. Gary Hansen (D-Portland).
Nick Smith, a spokesman for the House Majority Leader office, says the bill was written to ensure that Western would be able to continue operating in Scott's Clackamas County district but adds, "Rep. Scott has never used his public office to promote his business or potentially disadvantage his competitors."
Dan Tanner, owner of Tannerite Fireworks, which has operated since 1992 in Lane County, says his business and other fireworks operations should also be able to operate regularly on farmland, instead of needing to get temporary permits each year that let them avoid the hassle of selling their wares outside Oregon. Conditional-use permits can be hard to get because they can include public hearings where neighboring property owners can object.
Tanner says his fireworks company and dozens of others hoped their plight would spur the 2005 Legislature to pass a bill allowing businesses like theirs to use farmland for storing or selling their products.
For these companies, Tanner says, operating on farmland can make or break their business because farmland is cheaper and it's hard to find industrial land that's safe enough for storage.
Rural areas are obviously the safest place to store explosives, says Rep. Tom Butler (R-Ontario), who sponsored House Bill 3349, which would have made it easier for a fireworks company near Brogan, within his Eastern Oregon district, to get local land-use permits.
"There is not a better place on earth to have a magazine than Brogan," Butler says, referring to the above-ground bunkers used to store explosives. "There's nothing there except gravestones."
Hansen, who co-sponsored House Bill 2876, another 2005 effort to help the smaller fireworks companies, says, "If we let one company operate in a farm zone, the same reasons and motives should apply to other companies."
Yet both bills died.
Hansen's bill never got a committee hearing or work session. Butler's bill passed the House and Senate but died in the Rules Committee at the end of session because the House leadership wasn't going to let it out of that committee, according to committee chair Sen. Kate Brown (D-Portland), the Senate majority leader.
Smith noted that Scott voted for Butler's bill on the House floor but would not say if he worked to block it from advancing out of the Rules Committee.
Meanwhile, as July 4 nears, Tanner remains as bitter about SB667-A as he was three years ago.
"Anybody that reads it can see it's crooked and rotten to the core," Tanner says.