BANGOR, Maine — In a tight, 5-4 decision that followed contentious debate Monday night, the Bangor City Council rejected an ordinance amendment that would have banned tobacco products in certain public parks.
Councilors and city staff had previously spent hours in committee crafting and adjusting the ordinance. Originally, the proposal was an outright ban on smoking in all city parks, but after multiple Parks, Recreation and Harbor Committee and Government Operations Committee meetings, it was scaled back to only apply to some parks and then was amended to have Parks and Recreation Director Tracy Willette designate specific areas within parks where people could use tobacco products.
Councilor Joe Baldacci made a motion to amend the ordinance to, once again, have the ban cover the whole area of the designated parks. That motion failed.
Some members of the council expressed frustration that the ordinance didn’t carry teeth anymore and said it had become a “feel-good” ordinance that had been watered down by compromise.
“We now have before us something that’s totally useless,” Councilor Susan Hawes said.
Several councilors and members of the public spoke in favor of the ban, citing the health risks associated with secondhand smoke.
Laura Mitchell of Parkview Avenue said her kids can’t “flourish” while being exposed to smoking in parks. She said her children have picked up cigarette butts and put them in their mouths while playing in parks, something she doesn’t want to see happen again.
Councilor David Nealley argued that the city should not restrict the rights of residents to smoke in parks because smokers pay taxes, too. He and Councilor James Gallant called the ordinance a “nanny clause” and an overreach by the city.
Resident Charlie Birkel of Randolph Drive asked the council “how in the world [it was] going to restrict airflow in a public park.” He also questioned how Bangor Police Department would enforce the ban and argued that the understaffed police department had bigger issues to deal with.
Councilors Patricia Blanchette, Pauline Civiello, Gallant, Hawes, Nealley voted against the ban. Councilors Joe Baldacci, Charlie Longo, Ben Sprague and Chairman Nelson Durgin voted in favor of the ban.
In other business, the council approved a lease that will bring Maine State Police to Bangor.
The Maine Department of Public Safety has been looking to move Maine State Police Troop E out of its 60-year-old barracks on Main Street in Orono for several years. The troop has outgrown the building, Lt. Wesley Hussey said earlier this month.
The department will rent a pair of vacant buildings on airport property for 10 years, with the option for two 5-year renewals after the initial term. The lease would start at $111,300 for the two buildings, and rent would increase in 5-year increments until it reaches $129,750 in the 20th year of the lease.
The move to the airport would give Troop E about 9,000 square feet more space to work with. The two buildings included in the lease are the former Flight Service Station for the Federal Aviation Administration, Building 195, which would become the troop headquarters and dispatch center, and the nearby Building 92, a 4,000-square-foot storage building, which would be converted into a garage used to service and repair Maine Department of Public Safety vehicles.
Both buildings have been vacant since the mid-1990s, according to Airport Director Tony Caruso.