Editorial | Oceanfront safety must be deciding factor in Myrtle Beach-area tent bans

April 12, 2014 

Beach Safety

A sea of umbrellas, tents and people shimmer in the afternoon heat along the oceanfront looking south toward Springmaid Pier in June 2013.

CHARLES SLATE — cslate@thesunnews.com Buy Photo

No one should be surprised that a lot of folks who own beach tents want to be able to continue to use them all through the summer. Opinions expressed in letters to the editor have been overwhelmingly opposed to the summertime ban on canopy-style beach tents in Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach.

On Tuesday, the Horry County Council is scheduled to make its final vote on a similar ban that would apply to unincorporated Horry County beaches -- those not within incorporated cities. With due respect to the beach tent crowd, the county council should join the two cities in imposing the ban from May through Labor Day (the first Monday in September).

Councilman Paul Prince says he will continue to oppose the ban on grounds of fairness. In perhaps 20 emails and 15 to18 phone calls, plus face-to-face comments on the street, Prince has heard “lots of different reasons’’ in opposition to the ban. He sees potential economic loss if visitors do not return, as some have threatened. “I’m against the ban because I think it’s unfair.’’

A family on an outing to the beach ought to be able to pitch a canopy to protect grandpa and nana, infants and toddlers from the sun. Why should not grandparents enjoy their extended family on the beach with canopy shade? So the arguments go from folks Prince and others have heard from.

Hello, for years before tents lined the shore, beachgoers of all ages managed protection with umbrellas, appropriate attire such as floppy hats -- and of course sun screen.

The bans are based on public safety responsibilities. Municipal and county fire rescue teams must be able to reach everyone on the beach. The tents pose a potential hindrance to paramedics and law enforcement officers reaching people without delay. Beach tents are relatively new and the nuisance factor they impose has become progressively worse as the number of tents increased. That’s from Cpl. Justin Wyatt of the Horry County Police Department.

The tent ban “is all about safety on the beach. An already crowded beach becomes an overwhelmingly crowded beach’’ when it includes tents, Wyatt tells reporter Jason Rodriguez in his Sunday article on the issue.

Rules enacted in recent years on where and how closely together tents can be erected have not helped the problem. For the county and the cities, enforcement of those rules presents a major issue. County officers handled 3,800 beach tent rules infractions last summer, taking a total of 950 hours, according to Police Chief Saundra Rhodes. That’s simply not the best use of their time.

Wyatt makes the point that the ban will take less time to explain than the various stipulations of existing county regulations on where tents could be placed and so forth.

County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus acknowledges the potential challenges and says “we’re going to get the word out.’’ He’s counting on hotels and property management firms advising their customers about the ban. “Everybody’s going to know,’’ he says. That’s perhaps overly optimistic, given human nature.

County and city beach patrol officers are well aware of the importance of the area’s visitors. Wyatt of the county patrol summed it up: “We try our best to be community friendly. We believe in helping people. ... Especially with new laws, it’s all about education.’’

Tent users are far from a majority of those enjoying Grand Strand beaches. We understand the desire of many to pitch their tents, but have they considered how they would feel if a tent down the way delayed arrival of help to them? Might they swiftly seek legal redress?

The beach tent bans put public safety responsibility over any supposed “right’’ to put a temporary structure on public land. That is as it should be.

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