Bethany considers beach smoking ban

Bethany Beach Charter and Ordinance Review Committee members on June 14 dealt with an issue that has generated controversy nationwide — the question of banning smoking on the public beach.

As smokers have generally increasingly been driven outdoors by smoking bans at indoor establishments, likewise have complaints about second-hand smoke in outdoor locations been increasingly on the public radar.

A letter from a Bethany Beach resident led to the issue being placed on CORC’s June 14 agenda, where committee members appeared slightly reluctant to take on the hot topic.

Vice-Mayor and CORC Chairman Tony McClenny had already requested input from Bethany Beach Beach Patrol Captain Joe Donnelly regarding the issue. Donnelly, McClenny related, had said he supported the idea, as it would help reduce problems with smoking-related litter on the beach, as well as second-hand smoke.

CORC member Fulton Lappatto noted a general trend toward banning smoking in public places. And Building Inspector John Eckrich put in that he felt the issue was almost more focused on litter problems than on second-hand smoke, with concerns about wildlife ingesting non-biodegradable litter having been key parts of the argument in other coastal towns nationwide.

But committee members came into the discussion concerned about enforcement issues, wondering whether lifeguards had the resources or enforcement powers to police a smoking ban, or if police would need to enforce a ban directly or as backup to lifeguards.

CORC member Chuck Peterson, who himself had served as a lifeguard in California, noted that some towns in that state have already banned smoking on public beaches. But, there, lifeguards also have police powers, he pointed out.

Part-time resident Dan Costello, adding to the discussion on June 14, noted that even now police officers often enforce beach-related bans — such as that on alcoholic beverages on the beach — while overlooking the sands from the boardwalk, rather than relying upon lifeguards to note and report violations.

“Is smoking more dangerous than drinking to the public welfare?” Lappatto wondered aloud, noting the town’s currently very narrow beaches and resulting concentration of people who are exposed to any on-beach smoking and resulting litter.

He also noted that violations of existing prohibitions likely occur now, with alcoholic drinks camouflaged to avoid detection by police and lifeguards — suggesting that even with a ban in place, some violations may still occur.

“But the best reason to have an ordinance is so you know you have something on the books if you have a problem,” Peterson countered.

CORC members acknowledged that the issue will require considerable research before any move is made toward making a smoking ban the law. They moved to begin the research to develop an informational “white paper” on the subject prior to asking the town council whether CORC should continue to pursue the issue.

That paper could be presented to the council as early as their July regular meeting, at which time the council could endorse further development of potential draft legislation.

Also on June 14, CORC members voted note to pursue any potential regulations controlling the land of helicopters inside town limits, judging existing procedures for emergency landings by state and hospital helicopters to be sufficient.

CORC also sent back to the town’s planning commission the issue of the “good” side of fences as would be applied to requirements for fencing when commercial properties abut residential ones. The committee determined that the issue fell under the commissioners’ purview, which netted agreement from Councilman and Commissioner Lew Killmer, who McClenny said had agreed to take the issue back.