CONWAY — Horry County is sticking with to stick with its current ordinance regulating beach tents instead of banning them altogether, because of the challenge of educating tourists about new beach tent rules and spending more man hours on beach patrol.
Horry County was the first to meet about beach tents since last month when the Coastal Alliance asked area governments, like Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Horry, to gather a consensus from their boards on whether or not to ban the bulky canopy-style tents. Patrolmen and emergency personnel have said the tents can cause a problem when responding to emergencies on the beach. Three years ago, Horry County, North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach each adopted their own rules for the tents.
“The reality is, the beach tents are a challenge on the beach,” said Paul Whitten, assistant county administrator for public safety. “There’s no other way to look at it. It is also the No. 1 category of what beach patrolmen spend their time on.”
Horry County Police Chief Saundra Rhodes said a real problem is beachgoers who leave the tents up overnight.
“Really the tents are a pain in the neck, and right now they spend about an average of 15 minutes [per violation],” Rhodes said. “If we ban the tents, we’re probably going to spend a longer amount of time on the tents.”
Rhodes said she thinks explaining the ban to the more than 3,800 violators of the ordinance last summer would simply take too much time.
Whitten said after meeting with several county officials, it seems the county’s current ordinance is its best option.
“We don’t have a better solution for you,” Whitten said. “If you want to ban the beach tents, we’re still going to have a problem because people are going to bring them and not everybody is going to know the law. The reality is, in these 3,800 violations, about 99 percent of them were tourists. They were not necessarily the locals.
“Right now, if you’re going to allow tents on the beach, your current ordinance is the best way to do it.”
Those rules state tents can’t be larger than 12 feet by 12 feet, can’t go up before 8 a.m. and can’t be too close to an adjacent tent. Horry County, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach have rules for tents on the beach.
Last year, Myrtle Beach’s Beach Advisory Committee asked the council to ban the tents from May 1 to Labor Day annually. Ironically, in July, the Myrtle Beach City Council referred its possible ban on beach tents to the alliance in an effort to reach continuity among area beaches.
In December, North Myrtle Beach flirted with the idea of banning the tents in three areas of beach where erosion has made the beach too small to handle all the canopies, but it was voted down. Concerns centered around confusion for beachgoers and the thought that if they are restricted in some areas, tent owners would simply migrate to other areas where the tents were allowed. That, too, was an overall concern for cities in that if they were banned completely in one city, tourists would take their tent, and tourism dollars, to another city.
That’s why the Coastal Alliance wants a consensus.
Myrtle Beach will try to reach a consensus at its city council meeting Feb. 11, said city spokesman Mark Kruea, and North Myrtle Beach will talk about the issue at its Feb. 3 city council meeting, said Pat Dowling, spokesman for the city.
Whitten said beach patrolmen are sometimes at the front line of the first few days tourists get to the beach, so professionalism, courtesy and understanding need to be practiced at all times.
“We want compliance with the law, but we don’t want them to say ‘I’m never coming back to Horry County again. They were so horribly ugly,’” Whitten said. “We want them to say, ‘Those were nice folks. We didn’t know the law. They worked with us.’ So that’s a fine tight rope that [beach patrolman] have to walk.”
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.