New ERCA policy limits smoking at conservation areas



image001By Ron Giofu


The Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) will be asking people who use their conservation areas to butt out with the exception of designated areas.

ERCA adopted a smoke-free outdoor spaces policy at its board meeting last Thursday night in Essex. The policy will be rolled out over two years, starting with three sites in 2014 including Holiday Beach Conservation Area, John R. Park Homestead and Hillman Marsh Conservation Area.

In keeping with municipal policies/by-laws adopted or under consideration, ERCA states it will work with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit to draft a phased-in policy that prohibits smoking in high use areas beginning in the 2014 operating season.  High use areas are defined as Holiday Beach day use and beach area, excluding parking lots and seasonal campsites; Hillman Marsh in all areas utilized for school programs, excluding parking lot, and the John R. Park Homestead, excluding parking lot.

The balance of the Conservation Areas would be included in the policy in 2015.

“By using a phased approach, administration will be able to advise the board of public reaction, compliance issues or concerns, and any budgetary impact,” said Kevin Money, ERCA’s director of conservation services.

Money told the board administration tried to address many of the concerns board members had at previous meetings. He said the Health Unit will pay for “all of the hard costs” associated with the implementation of this policy, including signage and literature with that money flowing to the Health Unit from the province.

Provincial offenses officers will be trained on the new policy with local police forces also able to enforce it, he explained.

Education is seen as the main route to get people to comply with the policy, as it is believed by ERCA administration that people will adapt to the policy once they become more aware of it. ERCA general manager Richard Wyma said the policy will predominantly be enforced through education and awareness, comparing it to the litter bylaws which are largely self-enforced.

“It’s normalized now that we don’t litter in parks, we don’t litter in public areas,” said Wyma.

“Like our policies regarding prohibition of alcohol and motorized vehicles in our conservation areas, and the policy regarding picking up after your pet, it is anticipated that the most effective way of creating public awareness of this policy is through signage and an outreach program,” Money added.  “Signs that remind our guests that smoking is prohibited in our conservation areas will be erected at entrances and other appropriate locations.”

Windsor city councillor Ron Jones noted the litter policy and others like it took time to evolve and predicted the same will hold true for the no smoking policy.

“I’m hoping we don’t have this feeling that this will be an overnight sort of thing,” said Jones.

Amherstburg councillor Bob Pillon said many of his concerns, such as enforcement and campsite smoking, were addressed by Money’s report. He also believed it will take time for things to evolve.

“It takes education and it takes a change of mind,” said Pillon.

Pillon believed the policy will work over time and thinks there will be compliance, noting that smokers have adapted to not being able to smoke inside.

“I love going in restaurants now,” he said.

Windsor city councillor Jo-Anne Gignac voted against the policy, as she believed it should be identified as a pilot project. Gignac, who said she is a non-smoker, said enforcement was still an issue for her.

“When you enact a bylaw you know you are not going to be able to enforce, there’s a fundamental problem here,” she said.

Kingsville Deputy Mayor Tamara Stomp said the policy “doesn’t cost us anything” and said she watched a television program recently which said cigarette butts in waterways can be “very toxic.” She believed ERCA could do nothing else but adopt such a policy.

“This is just another means of sending a message to individuals that this is something else you don’t do in our parks,” said Stomp.

“We’re on the right track,” added Tecumseh councillor Rita Ossington. “It’s time. It makes good sense.”

Ossington added that peer pressure will help enforce such a policy.

LaSalle councillor Ray Renaud wondered why campsites were exempt from the policy, saying a hotel room is like a temporary home as well but smoking is not permitted there.

“If you are going to say it’s OK in campgrounds, I don’t know if I completely agree with it,” said Renaud.

Renaud added he isn’t worried about enforcement.

“You are never going to get 100 percent compliance,” said Renaud. “I don’t care if you bring the army in.”

Medical officer of Health with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit Dr. Allen Heimann was pleased ERCA adopted such a policy, stating in a press release “I am happy to hear that ERCA is taking steps towards creating smoke-free outdoor spaces. We will continue to work with ERCA as they move forward in implementing their smoke-free outdoor space policy.”

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