The Galveston City Council got it right Thursday when members unanimously approved a rule allowing cleaning crews to remove canopies and other personal items left on public beaches from sunset to sunrise.
The new ordinance, dubbed the “leave no trace” rule, gained significant support from the city council when Galveston Park Board of Trustees, which is responsible for cleaning and maintaining beaches, proposed it last year.
Canopies and other beach items left overnight make cleaning difficult for crews and confuse and harm wildlife, park board officials have said.
Council members wanted to get the rule on the books in time for spring break, which brings flocks of tourists to Galveston in March.
The only quibble, which we argued before, is that the council might be allowing too much time before it shifts from educating people about the rule to enforcing it.
The rule is effective immediately, but the park board has plans to phase in enforcement, spokeswoman Jaree Fortin said.
Until May 24, staff members will tag canopies and other items and allow owners two nights to remove their property. After that, staff members will remove and dispose of the canopies, chairs, coolers or other items, Fortin said.
From May 25 to June 29, staff will allow owners only one evening to remove tagged items, Fortin said.
Full implementation begins June 30, when park board employees will discard items when they first notice them between sunset and sunrise, Fortin said.
By spring break, the Galveston Bay Foundation hopes to have ready a public awareness campaign that will teach people about the rule, foundation spokeswoman Claire Everett said.
The foundation, park board and city plan to develop signs to tell visitors and residents to remove their personal items.
At least one council member who spoke during deliberation before the vote also argued for swifter enforcement.
“I don’t want to phase in,” District 6 Councilwoman Jackie Cole said. “I think we need to adopt this and get on with it.”
We agree it would have been fair to just get on with it, but a phased-in ordinance is still an improvement and the council was right to approve it.
Leaving things on the beach overnight can cause all sorts of problems, some for the environment and some for the taxpayers.
In a two-week period from Aug. 22 to Sept. 2, park board maintenance crews picked up 25 abandoned canopies, which cost about $4,320 in manual labor, hourly wages, equipment mobilization and wildlife monitors, according to park board reports.
Who knows how many of those, along with cheap plastic-foam coolers, toys, shoes, balls and various other debris wound up in the water.
This ordinance and the education efforts will not be 100 percent successful in getting people to take their stuff with them when they leave the beach, which means it’s just like every other rule — decent people when they learn about it will abide by it, others won’t.
Because of those others, the cleaning crews will still have to spend time collecting things off the beach, although perhaps a lot less of it.
But the leave-no-trace ethic is the standard among most people who enjoy the outdoors.
The ordinance is a formal acknowledgment that the beaches are the outdoors; they are part of the natural environment that we share with each other and other creatures and we all have a responsibility to treat them with respect.
If the ordinance achieves nothing more than that, it still will have been worth passing.
• Michael A. Smith