South Portland moves toward tobacco ban at beaches, parks

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Smoke ’em if you must – but not in any of South Portland’s public parks and beaches.

Councilors on Monday took preliminary action to impose a ban on tobacco products at or within 25 feet of all parks, beaches and other outdoor recreation facilities owned or maintained by the city.

People found in violation of the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

The ordinance was crafted and promoted – with the help of Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis – by members of South Portland High School’s Interact Club, who told councilors why the ban is necessary.

“When people go outside, we want to make sure they can enjoy Maine’s fresh air,” said Conor Beck, a junior at SPHS. “I’ve gone to Willard beach and had my time disrupted by someone passing by who smokes. You can try not to breathe for a second, but I think I have the right to not suffer the health consequences of second-hand smoke.”

The students displayed a plastic jug full of 1,011 cigarette butts they said they collected in about an hour at Willard Beach.

The ordinance was amended twice before its initial passage, in its enforcement and in its scope.

The original draft included specific language on how police officers would enforce the ban, including a verbal warning followed by a fine if a smoker refuses to stop.

Officer Linda Barker questioned the expectation of officers in a memo.

“Is it that the Police Department will patrol/respond to calls of violations to the ordinance?” she asked. “Is that realistic or even doable?”

Ultimately, the ordinance was changed to include more flexibility. It simply states that police will enforce the ordinance, but will do so at their discretion, deciding on a case-by-case basis whether to warn, fine or educate the offending smoker.

Councilors also amended the rule to include all publicly owned spaces, rather than the specific list of parks and beaches in the original draft. Councilor Tom Blake said the ordinance should be all-inclusive so councilors wouldn’t have to keep revisiting it to add more tobacco-free zones.

Town Manager Jim Gailey raised a concern about the South Portland Municipal Golf Course, which would be wrapped into the ordinance when the amendment is ultimately approved. Golfers often smoke while playing, he said.

Because they pay to play, Gailey had hoped to survey golfers to determine the best way to proceed with the tobacco ban, an idea he said the council had approved in workshop. He said he feared golfers may leave for Riverside Municipal Golf Course in Portland, where they can still smoke, which would cost the city money.

Councilors rejected the concern.

“We either believe in this thing or we don’t,” said Councilor Alan Livingston. Blake agreed, as did Councilor Patti Smith.

“Putting a price on health, on how long you might live?” Smith said. “The benefits are worth a minor revenue loss.”

Mayor De Angelis said approving the ordinance, but specifically excluding the golf course, would send a mixed message.

“We would have been saying, ‘No, we don’t think smoking is good, but go ahead and smoke at the golf course,'” she said. “There’s always a chance they’ll leave. There’s also a chance that people who really want to smoke would drive to Canada to do it if they had to. But do I think all the smokers are going to leave South Portland and go to Riverside? No, I don’t.”

The council will have a second reading and final vote on the ordinance at its next meeting, on July 6.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]. Follow Mario on Twitter: @riocarmine.

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In other South Portland business …

South Portland city councilors on Monday night also:

• Approved a proposal to allow a group of Willard Square residents to close parts of Preble, Willow, Thompson and Lowell streets on July 16 for “WillardFest,” which organizers say will feature music, games, food and crafts.

• Allowed City Manager Jim Gailey to apply for a $100,000 grant to fund the rehabilitation of the exterior of the former Maine National Guard Armory. The outlay will be matched by $100,000 in revenue from the Hannaford Tax-Increment Finance Zone.

• Approved a zoning change requested by the South Portland Housing Authority to expand the higher-density residential zone made for the Ridgeland Estates to a neighboring property at 0 Huntress Avenue. The SPHA plans to build a 44-unit affordable housing complex for senior citizens.

• Approved a plan to close the portions of Waterman Drive and Ocean Street closest to Thomas Knight Park from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. to accommodate the upcoming Farmers’ Market, which will run this year from July 14 until no later than Thanksgiving.

• Approved spending $57,000 on iPads for a pilot program to provide tablet computers to half the sixth-graders at Mahoney Middle School, and the purchase of 23 SmartBoards for use throughout the school district at a cost of nearly $103,000.

— Mario Moretto