LACONIA — A month after it was announced, the decision to ban cooking at Weirs Beach remains a bone of contention.
Critics and supporters of the regulation are expected to show up at Monday’s meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission to argue why the rule should be repealed or upheld.
“We’ve had people call our office to express their displeasure or pleasure with the rule and we have encouraged them to attend the commissioners’ meeting and speak their mind,” Parks and Facilities Director Amy Lovisek said.
While the item is not specifically on the agenda for Monday’s meeting, those who wish will be able to speak during the time set aside for public comment.
The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Laconia Community Center, 306 Union Ave.
The no-cooking rule is the newest prohibition affecting the city’s park system.
The Parks and Recreation Commission enacted the no-cooking regulation last fall in response to safety and sanitation concerns, Lovisek explained last month as the city’s beaches were preparing to officially open for the summer season.
While the regulations apply to the entire city park system — four beaches and six playgrounds — their impact has been most noticeable at Weirs Beach, which is situated on Lake Winnipesaukee and so is the one city park that is a destination for out-of-town visitors as well as local residents.
A month ago, signs in English and Spanish were posted at Weirs Beach telling beachgoers that cooking, alcoholic beverages, loud music, and hookahs were prohibited.
Members of the public have been making their feelings known to the City Council, in addition to the Parks and Recreation Department.
At Monday’s council meeting resident Scott McWilliams said while he understood the intent behind the regulations, he was concerned that they could turn tourists off.
“I don’t know how to make the message without sending the wrong message,'' said McWilliams, who said he planned to be at Monday's Parks and Recreation Commission meeting.
Councilor Tony Felch, who represents Ward 6 – which includes part of Weirs Beach – said Wednesday he had not received much feedback from his constituents, but most of what he has received has been in support of the no-cooking and other regulations.
One reason for the cooking ban is because some people were dumping charcoal ashes on the ground, creating a hazard to those who might be walking around in their bare feet.
Business owner Stacie DeMatos believes that problem could be straightened out if the city installs special receptacles for people to dump the ashes from their barbecue grills.
But Felch said cooking at the beach was causing unsanitary conditions because some people were washing utensils and food containers in the water.
“We’ve had bacteria problems at the beach in the past,” Felch noted.
He said because of the no-cooking regulation there is now less trash to pick up.
But DeMatos, who operates Weirs Beach Convenience and Gifts which sells beach toys, grills and charcoal briquettes, said trash at the beach is still a problem.
“They don’t want to pick up the trash,” she said.
The Weirs Action Committee, a private organization which fosters the growth and preservation of Weirs Beach, has discussed the beach regulation issue but hasn't taken a position, according to Robert Ames, the organization’s president.
He said the committee would consider helping to pay for new cooking grills for the beach.
“We’re ready to help out the city when asked,” Ames explained. “But we haven’t been approached.”
Ames said speaking for himself, he can understand the views of both the critics and supporters of the regulations.
“Personally I can see both sides of the issue,” he said.
DeMatos said she will be speaking her mind at Monday’ Parks Commission meeting.
“I hope they revisit their decision,” she said.
But she conceded that, in the end, her views or those of others opposed to the cooking ban will probably not change any of the commissioners’ minds.