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MADEIRA BEACH — A discussion at a Sept. 3 city commission workshop on prohibiting cigarette smoking on the beach went up in smoke after City Manager Robert Daniels said a state law does not allow such bans.

Daniels said the state legislation “took the power away from municipalities to prohibit smoking in parks or on the beaches” in 2003. A bill introduced in the state Senate last year that would have banned smoking on Florida beaches never got out of committee due to strong opposition from the tobacco lobby, City Attorney Ralf Brookes said.

The city can prohibit littering on the beach, which could cut down on the number of discarded cigarette butts, Daniels said. But the fine for violations is only $25. Also, Daniels said, some beach communities have put up signs telling beachgoers not to smoke, but they cannot be enforced.

Commission members were doubtful signs would work if a smoking ban is unenforceable.

Commissioner Doug Andrews said the major problem with smoking on the beach is the cigarette-butt litter it causes. He suggested putting signs up and hoping that people abide by them.

Resident John Hendricks agreed. “The issue is really the litter caused by smokers,” he said.

Signs that tell people smoking on the beach is not the right thing to do could be helpful, said Mayor Maggi Black. Also, she recommended monitoring the state Legislature for bills that would allow local smoking bans.

Commissioner Deby Weinstein said she did not want additional signs. “We have enough signage already,” she said, “but a littering ban could be included in signs listing activities not permitted on the beach.”

Brookes told the commission, “You’re better off enforcing a littering ban.”

Daniels said the city would continue to “monitor the situation” and encourage local municipalities to join together to lobby the state on the smoking issue.

Fewer bridge openings sought

A proposal to open the Tom Stuart Causeway Bridge for boat traffic only on the hour and half-hour seven days a week will be taken to the U.S. Coast Guard for follow-up.

Reacting to concerns over increased traffic, especially on weekends and holidays, and Monday through Friday during the school year, the commission decided a schedule is needed that allows fewer openings. The bridge currently opens Monday through Friday on request by boat traffic, and on weekends and holidays at the top of the hour, and 20 minutes and 40 minutes past the hour if boats are waiting.

City staff had recommended changing the schedule to bridge openings on the hour and half-hour weekends only, but the commission decided fewer openings every day would work best.

Commissioner Nancy Hodges said traffic backs up “really bad” on the causeway during the week when the bridge is open and school is in session. Madeira Beach Fundamental School is located just east of the bridge.

Black said traffic “sometimes goes very, very slow” during that time.

“Let’s ask for (fewer openings) every day of the week,” said Commissioner Doug Andrews. Some 1,400 cars are destined for the school every day, Andrews said, pointing out that it is a magnet school with no school buses.

Fewer bridge openings is “the right move,” said Andrews. “It’s a great idea.”

Weinstein said for consistency’s sake, “have one schedule all week long.”

City resident Hendricks, who had been involved in recommending changes to the bridge-opening schedule, also said openings on the hour and half-hour, if boats are waiting, would work best. Without a schedule, “raising and lowering the bridge can happen every 5 to 10 minutes” if boat traffic is heavy, Hendricks said.

Daniels said he would take the hour and half-hour openings, seven days a week, to the Coast Guard, to “get it established and get it done.”