Harwich Considers Public Smoking Ban

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Health , Beaches

Red River Beach is one of the favorite locations in town for walking dogs, especially on a day like Monday when the temperature hit 55 degrees. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH — The recreation and youth commission is considering banning smoking on public beaches as well as all parks and recreational facilities in town.

Before making a decision, however, the commission will get together with the board of health to determine if a wider ban would be better implemented under that board's jurisdiction.

Recreation Director Eric Beebe told the commission last week that a lot of towns on the Cape are implementing such regulations. He said they have not had a ton of complaints, but some people have expressed concern about people lighting up next to them on the beach.

Beebe said he has talked with Health Department Director Meegan Eldredge and there are no health provisions banning smoking in public on the books, but Eldredge said the recreation and youth commission would have the support of the health department. Beebe presented the commission with beach smoking bans in Falmouth and Eastham.

Beebe suggested the commission might want to consider extending the ban to all recreational facilities in town.

“Stop the discussion now,” commission chairman John Mahan said, pointing out the public meeting notice only included changes to two town beach regulations. The first sought to change the dates for dog walking at Red River Beach and the second to ban smoking on all Harwich public beaches. That was also the language on the commission's agenda. Discussing a wider smoking ban and additional beaches for dog walking would violate the state's Open Meeting Law, so he suggested the commission take up these changes under a new posting for the Feb. 26 meeting.

Commission member Vahan Khachadoorian pointed out there are now “no smoking” signs posted at Potter's Field. Commission member David Nixon wanted to know how the regulations would be enforced. It was suggested that might require a call to the police department.

“I think the board of health should take this step,” commission member Lee Culver said. It was agreed Beebe would meet with Eldredge to see if the board would move forward with implementing a no smoking ban in public throughout the town.

Eldredge said this week the board of health does not have a regulation banning smoking in public throughout town, just a workplace smoking ban. She said she would bring up the topic at the board's Feb. 12 meeting to get its position on such a ban. She said it could be done through a board regulation or a town bylaw.

“We have the ability, but I'm not sure the board of health has the desire,” Eldredge said of a town-wide ban on smoking in public.

The commission was also looking at extending the time line for dog walking restrictions at Red River Beach. The provision in the rules and regulations reads, “Red River Beach Only – Dog walking is allowed in the parking lot area only from dawn to 9 a.m. and from 4:30 p.m. to dusk, Memorial Weekend through Labor Day.

The commission was proposing to extend that provision through Columbus Day. Commission member Michael Hurley said there has been an increase in beach use during that period, and Uncle Venies Road residents Leo and Deborah Heffernan supported the proposed change.

There was discussion about cleaning up after dogs. The consensus of the commission was dog owners have been making the effort and conditions have improved, but there were still concerns about people using waste bags and leaving them on top of the wood revetment along the parking lot. Mahan said he is there often and discovered 30 bags, but added it was at a time of the year when there were no trash receptacles present. The commission urged dog walkers to take the bags home with them when there are no trash receptacles available.

Commission members wanted to know why the dog walking regulations did not cover all town beaches. Mahan pointed out the agenda covered only the Red River regulations. He said the discussion could be expanded to other beaches through a proper posting for the February meeting.

The proposed changes to beach regulations by the commission are only the first step. The final step requires a public hearing and the approval by the board of selectmen.