CONWAY — A proposed green laser ordinance will be back in front of the full Horry County Council without a recommendation from the public safety committee.
That’s the motion Councilman Paul Price made at the end of Thursday’s public safety committee meeting. He’d initially wanted a chance to read through the newest draft and talk about it again at a special meeting before sending it up to full County Council for a first reading at their Oct. 2 meeting.
Price had a change of heart at the end of the meeting because he said other members of County Council want the opportunity to talk about the ordinance as well.
Incidents throughout the summer that involved green laser pointers sparked complaints, including from aircraft pilots, and led council members to consider the ordinance.
At Thursday’s meeting, county attorney Sam Graves told the three-person panel the new draft includes exclusions. Those using lasers for professional purposes, such as educators, contractors and public safety officials, would be exempt.
Additionally, those licensed to own a firearm which has a laser sighting are excluded in the newest draft of the ordinance.
What the proposed set of rules is trying to do is limit the sale of green lasers to only those over the age of 18. Plus, required that the strength of the lasers couldn’t go above one milliwatt.
A majority of the green lasers that caused problems all summer for public safety officials up and down the Grand Strand were five milliwatts and could beam for three to five miles.
Public safety director Paul Whitten said there were more than 70 green laser strikes on incoming aircraft at Myrtle Beach International Airport. Pilots who have personally been hit say the lights are distracting during that critical approach period.
Committee member Paul Price wants to find some way to regulate the problem. However, for him, the biggest concern with the proposed regulation is enforcement.
“How in the world are you going to enforce this?” Price asked Graves.
The attorney explained that County Council could require merchants to undergo audits to ensure they’re not selling green lasers above one milliwatt to minors.
“If you didn’t have your records, it is at your peril that you don’t take these things,” Graves said. He added that store owners could risk having their merchandise confiscated if they don’t comply with audits.
Price had other concerns stemming from the idea of audits, specifically the impact it could have on an already stretched-thin county police department.
Interim Chief Saundra Rhodes said audits could possibly be conducted only on a complaint basis.
Committee Chairman Brent Schulz expressed a desire for the ordinance to be as simple as possible. He asked Graves to look into the possibility of green lasers only in stores federally licensed to sell firearms, such as pawn shops and gun stores.
The green lasers officials say are causing the most problems are those readily available in beachwear stores.
The discussion and possible regulations come after several incidents where green lasers were pointed at helicopters flown by the U.S. Coast Guard during search and rescue missions on the Grand Strand, most recently in Garden City the first week of August.
In August, Cmdr. Gregory Fuller, commanding officer at Air Station Savannah which provides air support for the Grand Strand, said the Coast Guard may not help search efforts on the grand strand because their rescuers’ safety is in jeopardy.
Fuller compared flying into places with laser pointer activity to traveling into storms while on rescue missions. Other areas, he said, have laser activity but it’s much more random, like lightning produced by a thunderstorm. If there’s a 100 percent risk of a flight crew getting struck by lightning – or lasers – they won’t fly.
Green lasers were the hot topic, but it wasn’t the only set of fireworks.
Whitten gave a report of the expenses generated by the county by providing security for the spring bike rallies. The expenses greatly outweighed the revenue generated through permit sales, and Horry County ended up losing almost $190,000.
Schulz appeared shocked by the numbers, and wanted to have the discussion before full council in order to come up with possible courses of action to get some of the money back.
“This is incredible,” Schulz said.
Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.