Group brings the issue of smoke-free zones to selectboard
by Jack Deming
May 16, 2013 | 2701 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WILMINGTON- A panel of anti-smoking advocates presented a request to the selectboard, asking permission to hang signs in the town parks, declaring those spots as smoke-free zones. Cindy Hayford, of the Deerfield Valley Community Partnership, was joined by Christine Reilly, student advisor of the Twin Valley High School Pride Prevention Group, and Jennifer Nilsen, who has been working to create smoke-free zones in local workplaces. The panel explained that Wilmington could join other Vermont towns, such as Bennington, who have banned smoking in public parks, but take a less aggressive approach with signs that would empower individuals to ask others to butt out.

Reilly explained the school’s pride group had been working for two years to educate students on the effects of secondhand smoke. “People know it’s bad, but they don’t have all the facts,” said Reilly.

The second phase of the group’s work is looking at the environment, and Hayford said that in a recent survey of local middle-schoolers, nearly half said that in the past seven days they have been exposed to secondhand smoke. “We started looking at where are some of the areas they might be exposed, and parks came up,” said Hayford.

Hayford also pointed out that an annual community survey done by the pride group at Town Meeting asked residents if they would support smoke-free parks and 86% of the 72 who responded said they would.

“One issue that comes up is the enforcement, and we’re not really interested in enforcement, we’re interested in that if you set a culture in our community that parks are smoke-free, and you have a sign asking for it to be a smoke-free zone, it empowers the citizens to enforce it,” said Hayford.

While she felt the signs presented to the board that read “Thank you for keeping this a smoke-free zone” are ambiguous enough, Streeter felt it wasn’t up to the town to tell people what to do. “I understand the arguments,” said Streeter. “But it is still a legal activity for certain age groups. I don’t object to encouraging no smoking, but I’m totally opposed to prohibiting smoking at public space.”

“When do we stop government?” said Burke. “I have no problem telling someone to not smoke near me, but I don’t feel it is this governments’ place to stop it.”

Selectboard member Jake White said he was all for the signs. “I’m behind it. The signs and the campaign. The public sometimes doesn’t know what’s good for them, but they should know what’s not good for them.”

Hayford said the group would be willing to change the language on the sign to include references to the proximity of children in parks, as activities like T-ball games are on public grounds where people are allowed to smoke, unlike high school fields.

No decision was made, and Streeter asked Hayford if the group could come up with a few more phrases for signs that the selectboard could continue to consider.

John Bennett from the Windham Regional Commission (WRC) gave a brief presentation to the board, and fielded questions about the WRC’s continuing work. Bennett has been working with the Planning Commission on a municipal planning grant, and was there to fulfill the WRC’s requirement to update the board on its work twice every eight years with a municipal consultation.

Bennett updated the town on the commission’s work, including work on zoning maps as well as maps for the Valley Trail, downtown district, updating road maps, and providing the town’s highway department with culvert maps. The WRC has also helped to anchor some of the town’s Community Development Block Grants, and is currently working on a high risk rural road project focusing on Coldbrook and Higley Hill roads, aimed at improving the two roads’ signage, line painting, and guardrails next year.

Selectboard vice chair Jim Burke asked Bennett why the WRC had weighed in on a proposed cell tower and said that it was the wrong height. “It bothered me that the WRC weighed in on a cell tower in our town that we’ve overseen and got no negative feedback on,” said Burke.

“My suspicion was that the cell tower would have been viewable from Harriman Reservoir, a public resource area, and might have been a concern,” said Bennett. “Many times applications come in for taller towers than needed. The WRC weighs issues and tries not to step on towns’ toes.”

Former selectboard chair Tom Consolino was in attendance and weighed in. “I was notified of the project review on the cell tower as chairman of the board. The project review commission gets involved to look at the best interest for all concerned without taking sides. The reason they suggested a lower height is they were simply matching height with the temporary tower, and the commission simply wondered why couldn’t you do that with a permanent tower.”

Consolino said he was willing to take responsibility if there was a lack of communication.

Selectboard chair Meg Streeter asked Bennett why the WRC had not weighed in when asked to by the town in regard to the installation of windmills in Readsboro and Searsburg. “They said at the time they did not take positions, but this issue was greater because the windmills were visable from national forest land and Harriman.”

“We tried to be a neutral advocate” said Bennett. “We were also approached by the town of Readsboro for not supporting their town’s efforts.”

Town Manager Scott Murphy reported to the board that the town’s planning grant application to perform a co-relocation feasibility study on six sites for the police and fire departments had been approved. The grant will total $74,000 and allow the town to complete the study by the end of the summer. Murphy said the next step was to wait for an official notification letter to give the town a green light to hire contractors and planners.

The board also approved the appointment of Doris Horton to the Memorial Hall Board. Horton has served on the hall board before, and upon moving back to Wilmington wanted to get involved again. Horton said she is glad the high school and the WINGS after-school program are using the hall, and attracting large crowds for their performances. “I came here in 1970 and got involved there,” said Horton. “It’s the best thing I ever did.”

The board will hold a special vicious dog hearing on Tuesday, May 21, at 8 am.

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