County officials chided for ban on fireworks

By 
Jason Bacaj – Enterprise Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Park County Commission caught flak Tuesday morning from the owners of Last Stand Fireworks for the decision to ban the use of fireworks over the Fourth of July weekend.

Commissioners also opened the preliminary fiscal year 2022 budget for public inspection. Copies of the budget are available online and in person at the Park County Accounting Office in the City-County Complex building on East Callender Street. The public is able to comment on the preliminary budget through Sept. 9.

Chris and Julie Benden, owners of Last Stand Fireworks, spoke out at the beginning of the meeting about how their business was impacted by the Commission’s decision to ban the use of fireworks. They said the decision prevented them from hiring two employees, as they usually do ahead of the holiday, and caused loss of sales. Julie Benden said the county overstepped its legal powers with the ban, as “there is nothing in the regulations or Legislature that has explicitly granted (the Commission) the power to regulate fireworks on private land in the county.”

Chris Benden said that they want the county to compensate them for the loss of income.

“If there’s no cooperation from the county itself, we will take matters further and have to sue the county in order to regain our lost income,” Benden said at the meeting. “I know there’s a lot of loudmouths out there who don’t like fireworks, but it’s a free country. We are allowed to do things that are allowed by the state.”

Commissioners did not respond to the comments. Chairman Steve Caldwell said it’s standard practice for commissioners to not respond to items not on the agenda for discussion.

In other business, commissioners unanimously approved the paperwork associated with resurfacing the Mission Field airport. They also approved a courtesy vehicle for the airport. Public Works Director Matt Whitman said the county will provide a vehicle that otherwise would’ve been auctioned off. Courtesy vehicles are made available by airports to visiting pilots so they can travel to a hotel or restaurant between flights.

Commissioners also moved a number of infrastructure projects forward. They unanimously approved task orders for design and construction engineering services related to the repair and upkeep of three Cooke City bridges and replacing the bridge deck of the Bear Creek Bridge.

They also discussed and approved contributions to water infrastructure projects in Wilsall and Gardiner, as well as a wastewater infrastructure project in Cooke City. Also approved were a promotion of Richard Wood to chief deputy coroner, so that he can provide training to other deputy coroners, and the creation of a store manager position at the Yellowstone Gateway Museum.

Commissioners unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding that allows the Park City-County Health Department to receive naloxone from the state and distribute it for free to residents at a higher risk for overdose or who are close with people at risk of overdosing, Alex Baukus, health department director, explained at the meeting. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist used to reverse the effects of an overdose caused by heroin, fentanyl and other opioids.

Money to provide naloxone free of charge to the public comes from a bill passed by the 2017 Legislature that issued a standing order to prescribe the medication statewide.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services issued a press release at the end of June warning of an “alarming increase of fentanyl-related fatalities in Montana.” Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid about 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine that was developed for managing pain in cancer patients, the release states.

Through May 2021, there have been 22 confirmed fentanyl-related fatalities in the state. In 2020 there were 41 such deaths, which was up from 19 in 2019, according to the state Department of Justice’s State Crime Lab.

“By having this available for people we hope that we can reduce the fatalities from overdoses,” Baukus said.

Baukus said the health department staff will receive training on how to administer naloxone and they will be able to train others to administer the medication.