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5 November 2008

Littering laws to be enforced on Miami Beach, possible smoking ban in future

PARADISE: A commissioner in Miami Beach has pushed to enforce littering laws more harshly, and is considering pursuing a smoking ban. Courtesy The Office of the Mayor and Commission.

A 30-pound compilation of burnt cigarette butts discovered on a single block in Miami Beach has caused residents to question the city’s enforcement of anti-littering laws and push for a smoking ban.

Though many inhabitants and organizations are attempting to take action, the discontent has caught the eye and support of one individual – Miami-Beach Commissioner Jerry Libbin, who wants to implement new strategies to change the tune of code violators.

“So far it’s me,” Libbin said. “No one’s taken the bull by the horns.”

Libbin’s plan includes educating the public on the hazards of littering, beginning a citation process for those who violate the code and possibly outlawing smoking on the beach altogether. The commissioner realizes the controversy that lies within banning smoking on Miami Beach and, though he does not plan to make it the first step, he will keep the possibility in mind.

“Education will only go so far without enforcement,” Libbin said. “The goal is to continue in education. If at the end there hasn’t been a significant change, I won’t be taking [the smoking ban] off the table.”

Libbin clarified that the public must first be knowledgeable on the negative, adverse impacts of littering before the enforcements begin. He is organizing two weekends this month where those on the beach will be approached on site. Later this season, code officers will be patrolling the beach on ATVs to hand out citations to those who break the law cited under Section 46-92. The officers will begin by handing out warnings to violators and then move on to fines ranging from $50 to $500, depending on the offense. Residents were concerned with the possible perceptions some tourists may develop, but Libbin was persistent.

“[Citations are] to try and send a loud and clear message, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” Libbin said.

The structure of events this weekend and Nov. 15-16 will use volunteers, including four employees a day from various hotels and four from Lowe’s, to pair up and monitor a section of the beach. While distributing biodegradable trash bags, the volunteers will tell civilians, “Please don’t leave with just a suntan, take your trash.”

Other ideas are currently in motion to prevent littering on the community’s beach. Portable ashtrays have already been ordered and approximately 3,000 will be distributed for free to keep beach-goers’ cigarette butts off the ground. Although other beaches, including Cocoa Beach and beaches in Sarasota, started the trend of outlawing smoking, difficulty may be found when implementing the ban for all of Miami Beach. “Green Zones”- or smoke free areas – are being considered in place of completely banning smoking across North Miami and South Beach.

Graphic designers are also being contacted to create blueprints of animals being affected by littering. Layouts include sensationalized images of sea turtles suffocating from plastic bags will be displayed on the lifeguard stands. Supporters of the plan are convinced the tactic will catch the eye of visitors, but Libbin affirmed that they do not have the proper funding yet.

“This is not a city official thing,” Libbin said. “This is one city commissioner who is trying to change one thing.”

The commissioner, who arranged two litter awareness meeting within the past two weeks, has been pushing the issue with the administration since August. The meetings were scheduled to discuss the upcoming litter awareness programs available this month for community members who want to get involved. Though the crowd fell short of expectations, leaving the room spacious, there was little opposition of the issue.

The meetings attracted Miami Beach residents, multiple members of organizations such as Environmental Commission of Miami Beach [ECOMB], and even a student from Nautilus Middle School. David Benson, 11, accompanied his mother to the meeting but had his own reasons for attending. A lover of sea turtles and dolphins, Benson has already participated in three protests for litter awareness.

“I know about the impacts [littering] has on some of my favorite animals and I don’t want to see them go extinct,” Benson said.

Though residents are aware of and frustrated by the harmful effects of littering, they are not alone. University of Miami sophomore Susanna Leonard, a weekly beach-goer, is as attentive as any Miami Beach resident.

“Sometimes South Beach is so filthy, I would rather just drive over to Key Biscayne,” Leonard said.

Leonard validated the likelihood of cleanliness through creating green zones by comparing the beach to her hometown of Belmar, N.J.

“I think [banning smoking] is a good idea. They created green zones at my beach back home and since then, it’s been a lot cleaner,” she said.

Like Leonard, many students at UM may be aware of the trash on the beaches but have no idea what measures are being implemented. When approached with Libbin’s plan, Accounting major Dayne Knight, 19, agreed with the warnings and fines but felt banning smoking is a disruption of free will.

“People go to the beach to relax, enjoy themselves,” Knight said. “If you start regulating their activities, they may start going other places.”

Libbin recognized the difficulty of the task at hand. He emphasized that the controversy did not lie within the enforcement of clean beaches but in the question of whether smoking should be banned altogether.

“We have an uphill battle to say the least, but that doesn’t mean you don’t fight the battle,” Libbin said.

The awareness programs will take place on Sat. and Sun. as well as Nov. 15 and 16 from 1 to 3 p.m.

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