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Town to rely on beach ownership, education to enforce smoking ban

Without state-granted municipal authority, the town of Wrightsville Beach will be relying on limited borders and educational efforts to enforce its beach smoking ban.

Beaches in North Carolina are considered state property, but Wrightsville is an exception because it owns a large portion of its beach. However, there's a conflicting law that says parts of the beach that have been nourished are under state control, bringing up serious questions when it comes to actually enforcing the smoking ban.

Wrightsville Beach officials asked for the state's help back in January, hoping that state Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, would bring forward a bill that would give beach towns municipal authority. But these efforts largely went nowhere.

Now the town is using the resources it currently has to make sure this smoking ban is in effect for the summer season.

Wrightsville Beach Town Manager Tim Owens said officials believe they have full legal grounds to impose the ban from the southern line of Jack Parker Boulevard to the northern line of the public parking lot immediately south of the Shell Island Resort Hotel – the part of the beach Wrightsville owns outright.

“That's most of the beach anyway,” he said.

Sean Ahlum with the Cape Fear Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, which was an outspoken proponent of the ordinance during the election season, said he believes the town has the right to enforce it throughout the beach.

“It is not the Board of Aldermen's decision to decide whether or not to enforce the ban. It was brought before the residents of Wrightsville Beach. We followed all the rules and we voted on it,” he said. “It's up to the government officials that we elected to enforce the rules the people have voted on.”

For this first tourist season with the ban in place – it was approved by the town's voters in November – the emphasis will be on educational efforts.

Signs are already posted at the beach that clearly state “No Smoking,” and the town is working with Wrightsville Beach Elementary School students to design an educational campaign, Owens said.

The town is also looking into purchasing magnets and fliers for the hotels and condos that will let visitors know about the law.

“I think an educational approach is by far the best way,” Ahlum said. “The signs should let people know, and if someone is smoking on the beach area they should be politely asked to stop first. If that has been ignored, however, I believe that they should be fined.”

The smoking ban includes the use and possession of a lighted cigarette, lighted cigar, lighted pipe or other lighted tobacco product, according to the town ordinance. Beach ambassadors and lifeguards will warn people smoking on the beach. Enforcement will be left up to the police officers and park rangers on the beach, although it might not start right away.

Owens said they want to give some leeway for people to learn about the rule – particularly for the out-of-town visitors.

“We're not going to go into this thing too heavy-handed at first,” Owens said.

Once enforced, the violation of the new beach ordinance will result in a fine that will not exceed $50.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Source: Star News Online

Town to rely on beach ownership, education to enforce smoking ban