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ST. PETE BEACH — City commissioners deliberated whether to enact bans on smoking, plastic foam coolers, bicycles and fishing on the beach during a work session to draft an all-encompassing beach ordinance.

City officials held the first work session on proposed beach restrictions and regulations July 12, with commissioners getting through half their agenda due to discussion taking longer than expected.

In drafting a sweeping beach ordinance, the city has two objectives, City Manager Alex Rey said. First is to consolidate already-existing beach regulations that are spread out between three different ordinances. Then, the city would like to incorporate additional regulations and make changes to laws that that have not been enforced.

The work session was to “consider policies and concepts, and what rules will be implemented on the beach,” the city manager advised commissioners. “I don’t want anybody to feel that we’re trying to rush this.”

In two or three months, the city commission will also be asked to adopt a separate waterways ordinance that will deal with swimming areas, and include topics such as manatee protection, Rey added. 

In one topic for discussion, commissioners decided to follow the Beach Stewardship Committee suggestion and only allow fishing within swim zones when the beach isn’t busy — probably between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. 

“You don’t want lines and lures in the water when people are in the swim zones,” Mayor Al Johnson said. He said he would be in favor of limiting fishing to specific hours rather than banning it outright.

Another discussion centered on whether to ban smoking of cigarettes including vaping, but not cigars, which the city can do under a new state statute.

Commissioner Mark Grill, who described himself as “anti-smoking,” said he has heard that cigarette butts are the number one piece of litter picked up during beach cleanups. Vaping, meanwhile, becomes a second-hand smoke problem. “What is our objective?” Grill said. “What’s the root problem that we’re trying to solve?”

Rey responded that the problem is cigarette butts. Grill said the city already has a litter ordinance, and the city should look at the enforceability.

“If you eliminate bringing cigarettes on the beach, you’re going to minimize the problem,” Johnson said. He said mayors of the beach cities have discussed making a smoking ban consistent along all the beaches.

Commissioner Chris Graus said the idea is “to get a mindset going to stop people from smoking on the beach; it’s not going to happen overnight, but at least you start something.” 

Jennifer MacMahon, the city’s chief operating officer, brought up another topic that will ultimately have to be decided by the commission: prohibiting bicycles on the beach.

The Beach Stewardship Committee recommended no bicycles be permitted on the beach. While e-bikes are already prohibited, motorized scooters for the disabled and wheelchairs would still be permitted on the beach.

Commissioner Melinda Pletcher suggested maybe an order should mirror the proposed fishing rule and allow bicycles in the morning and evening.

Johnson agreed bicycles could be prohibited in the middle of the day, when there are lots of people on the beach.

Grill again asked whether a problem exists.

“We’re getting more and more people, and more and more activities (on the beach),” said commissioner Ward Friszolowski. “You’re not expecting a bicycle to come up from behind you, when they are going by two feet away, as you’re trying to enjoy he peaceful quiet of the beach, and that is starting to effect things. I’ve seen it and I’ve had other people ask me, ‘You allow bicycles on the beach?’”

On another topic, the Beach Stewardship Committee suggested the city ban use of plastic foam containers on the beach. Grill suggested that might harm businesses, with many people buying food in restaurants and bringing it to the beach.

MacMahon, meanwhile, told commissioners another topic the beach ordinance will ultimately address is prohibiting fireworks on the beach.

She noted the city’s July 4th fireworks were set off from a barge, “but there were fireworks being set off up and down the beach.” They were allowed due to a new state statute that made recreational fireworks legal on 4th of July, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Rey said the city can prohibit fireworks on its portion of the beach, but private property owners may be able to set off fireworks due to state law. On the other hand, it is up to the property owner not to permit others from setting off fireworks on their portion of the beach if they are worried about liability.

City Attorney Andrew Dickman noted the city may be able to regulate the type and size of fireworks permitted on private property.

Other laws being considered would protect migratory seabirds and shorebirds, and only permit beach cabanas to be placed on the sand when they are actually in use and perhaps setting density limits, rather than allowing rows of cabanas set out all day.

The city will plan another beach ordinance work session and hold a public hearing before any adoption is considered a few months from now.

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