MYRTLE BEACH — Beachgoers – locals and tourists alike – say they aren’t sure why some area officials have such a problem with tents on the beach.
“I don’t really notice [tents],” said tourist Kim Cowger from Ohio, as she sat on the beach this week near Seventh Avenue South in Myrtle Beach. She didn’t use a tent on Wednesday, but said she understood why people might need to.
“There aren’t even that many,” Cowger said. “Is there really a problem?”
Some Myrtle Beach leaders say there is. Three years after establishing restrictions for tents on the beach, Myrtle Beach is considering an outright ban on tents on the beach during the peak summer months -- saying the tents get in the way of safety personnel -- and wants other local governments to talk about one, too.
The Coastal Alliance, a group that represents cities and Horry County along the Grand Strand, is expected to discuss a potential ban during a Wednesday meeting, though some members of the alliance said they aren’t sure it’s a topic that needs to be revisited.
The Myrtle Beach Beach Advisory Committee suggested that beach tents be banned from May 1 to Labor Day.
During a Beach Advisory Committee meeting in June, franchisees said the tents are causing a safety issue. The franchisees rent umbrellas and chairs to beachgoers as well as provide lifeguard services.
George Lack of Lack’s Beach Service said his employees have had to clear a path of tents and other canopies to get from the beach access to the water in their rescue vehicle to give medical attention to those in need.
“In some areas, the tents are causing a problem,” Lack said at the June 26 committee meeting. “If you can’t get the people down there [to help], that’s a problem. … How many times do I have to fly by the seat of my britches to get this thing to work?”
Some beachgoers who spoke with The Sun News say the umbrellas that are brought by individuals or rented out by beach service providers such as Lack’s cause as much of a problem as tents do.
Jeff Chabot of Montreal, Canada, who sat outside of his tent on the beach near Seventh Avenue South on Wednesday, said a car would have trouble getting to the beach whether there are tents or umbrellas blocking their way.
“If the issue is really about tents blocking emergency vehicles from getting to the water, would they be able to get through those?” Chabot said pointing to a row of about 20 umbrellas with chairs. “They can’t get through the umbrellas either. They need to look at it with a bit of logic.”
Earl Huggins of Huggins’ Beach Service told Myrtle Beach City Council members that tents take longer than umbrellas to take down.
“With an umbrella all you have to do is push a button,” he said at the July 9 City Council meeting.
Safety issues or financial gain?
Other beachgoers question the motives for the franchisees’ attempt to rid the beach of tents.
“Even though Mr. Lack says he is just interested in safety, removal of all the tents from the beach would necessarily result in increased use of Mr. Lack’s umbrellas and beach chairs,” said Myrtle Beach resident Jim Furry. “Already, his beach chairs occupy the front and best views of the beach.”
Furry said he usually uses a tent when his family comes to town to visit to provide some relief from the sun when necessary.
“If my wife and twin sons and their families all brought our own umbrellas and chairs to the beach, we would take a lot more space than the tent we now use when our family visits us each August,” he said. “I hope the council is smart enough to see through what appears to me to be another attempt to increase income of the beach services company.”
At the July 9 City Council meeting, Lack said it would take about two and a half umbrellas to cover the same area that a tent would.
“Some people say we’re doing this for our own economic gain,” he said. “But we’re still setting up the same number of umbrellas we were in 2008 or 2009.”
Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said he disagrees with the notion that beach franchisees are out for their own economic gain.
“It’s not about the beach service making money,” he said. “It’s about the safety of the people on the beach.”
Myrtle Beach joined Horry County and North Myrtle Beach in establishing rules for tents on the beach three years ago. Under the current law, Myrtle Beach beachgoers can’t use tents larger than 12-feet-by-12-feet, have to set them up on the land side of the lifeguard’s umbrella line and be at least 10 feet away from another tent. North Myrtle Beach no longer requires tents to be 10 feet apart.
Future of tents uncertain
Horry County spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said she hasn’t heard about any issues with tents from beach safety personnel or at any public meetings.
“I haven’t even heard the topic mentioned during public comment [at County Council meetings],” she said. “I don’t think it’s something that’s on our radar.”
Coastal Alliance members have said they’re not sure how soon a decision would be made on any changes to beach tent regulations – if they decide to make any changes at all – adding they would consider the issues being reported in Myrtle Beach.
“We’re having a bigger problem with them this year than last year, and it’s causing a bit of an issue,” North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley said. Hatley is a member of the Coastal Alliance. “After the summer we’ll be looking at it. I don’t know exactly what we’re going to do, but I’ll definitely listen to what the folks from Myrtle Beach have to say.
“I know people love their tents and we want to be able to make them happy, but when it becomes a safety issue we have to take a look at it,” she said.
Coastal Alliance member and Surfside Beach Mayor Doug Samples said he hasn’t spent a lot of time discussing the issue in his town. He said as of a month ago he had not heard of any issues in Surfside Beach.
“We don’t have high-rises on our beachfront, so consequently we have fewer people on the beach,” he said. “And we’ve had pretty good cooperation with those who attend the beach.”
Rhodes, who presides over the Coastal Alliance meetings, said it’s something that is causing problems and definitely needs to examined.
“We just need to look issues that we have seen as far as making sure that tourists are able to enjoy the beach and make sure we can get emergency vehicles down there,” he said.
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_MPrabhu.