Snuffing smokers

Alpena council considers banning butts in public parks

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena Mayor Matt Waligora, left, presents a proclamation to Carol Skiba declaring the beginning of 30 Days of Peace in Alpena.

ALPENA — There is enough support on the Alpena Municipal Council to make public beaches in the city either smoke- or tobacco-free, but any action taken will likely not be for several weeks.

Council voted 5-0 to have City Manager Greg Sundin reach out to other communities in the area to see what their policies are and how they are working and enforced. Council could pass a resolution banning the use of cigarettes or tobacco in the parks, or pass an ordinance, the latter of which would allow law enforcement to issue citations and fines.

The issue was brought to the board by Councilwoman Amber Hess, who says the health and environmental concerns from smoking should be considered. She said many other communities have banned smoking in public parks and she believes Alpena should do the same.

“I had residents reach out to me about it, especially after the splash-pad opened,” Hess said of the new water park that opened this summer at Mich-e-ke-wis Park. “I know even though there are cigarette towers at the beach, people are still putting them out in the sand and they end up in the water. That and no amount of secondhand smoke is safe and it can be a trigger for health issues for people, especially children.”

Councilwoman Susan Nielsen made her opinion on the issue crystal clear. She said there are children at the parks and many non-smokers, including herself, and subjecting them to the poisons in the smoke is wrong.

“I don’t know why anyone would intentionally contaminate the environment at our beaches where children recreate and gather,” she said. “Your rights end where my rights begin and the same is for the other people who are down there and don’t want to be subjected to the smoke and pollution.”

Councilman Mike Nowak said he talked to people who smoke and said most of them had no issue with having to leave the park to light up. He said protecting the parks and the lake are always a high priority of his.

“I intentionally targeted smokers and I bet 90 percent of them said they would not be opposed to it and could go to their car or take a walk to smoke,” Nowak said. “I think this is a right direction to take.”

Councilwoman Cindy Johnson agreed with her colleagues, as did Mayor Matt Waligora. Waligora said the council needs to know which direction it wants to go when making a decision. He said he is in favor of the parks being smoke-free, but said making them totally tobacco-free may be taking things too far. He said he has never received complaints about the use of chewing tobacco or electronic cigarettes. He said he’s open to allowing the use of those.

“We are moving in a good direction, Waligora said.

No matter what the city chooses to do in terms of passing a resolution or an ordinance, Waligora said that, obviously, there wouldn’t be police patrolling the beach looking for people smoking. He did say, however, that he intends to talk to city police to see if they can write tickets to people who flick cigarette butts out their car windows or toss them on the ground after smoking.

“I don’t have an issue with pursuing the public parks first and then pursuing the littering issue,” he said. “We’ll be taking to law enforcement to see how that might work.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or 989-358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.

In other business

The Alpena Municipal Council on Tuesday also voted to:

∫ pass a traffic control order which establishes a permanent bus lane on Fourth Avenue near Ella White Elementary School;

∫ pay bills totaling $164,213;

∫ rezone a portion of the property at 316 Cavanaugh St. from R-2 to P-1, which allows the owner to use it for additional parking.