April 12, 2014

Horry County poised to take final vote on banning tents on the beach

Education will be the key to successfully keeping beach tents off Horry County-monitored beaches this summer if County Council votes Tuesday to ban them.

Education will be the key to successfully keeping beach tents off Horry County-monitored beaches this summer if County Council votes Tuesday to ban them.

That’s education on the part of law enforcement, local retailers, and hotel and management property owners.

Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach have already banned the canopy-style beach tents from Memorial Day to Labor Day and from May 15 to Sept. 15, respectively. Horry County Council will vote Tuesday on the third reading of an ordinance that would ban tents on the beach year-round; it’s already given the ban two favorable votes. The move has been a collective one among coastal communities who say the tents are a nuisance to law enforcement who try to tend to emergencies on the beach.

Cpl. Justin Wyatt of the Horry County Police Department’s Beach Patrol said the past couple of years has been getting progressively worse with the amount of beach tents in the area. The popularity of the tents has soared in recent years as more beach-goers say they rely on them to take a break from the sun during day-long beach outings or protect babies and children from the sun.

“The big thing about tents is Horry County is all about safety on the beach,” Wyatt said. “An already crowded beach becomes an overwhelmingly crowded beach.”

Wyatt said the patrol is used to interacting with beach-goers about tents because in recent years it has had to explain the sometimes complicated restrictions of where the tents could be placed.

“We spent an inordinate amount of time last year on the tent law,” he said. “I expect to spend about the same amount of time this year, however it’s going to actually take less time explaining the new tent law to the tourists than it will the old law. The old law had so many stipulations in it that it literally took us five to 15 minutes where tents could go, where they couldn’t go, and what the law on tents were.

“We know what to expect with a new law coming into effect, but we have plenty of manpower for the summer to enforce the tent law plus keep the people safe.”

Manpower on the beach is always helpful, but County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus hopes the manpower on the streets will help alleviate some headaches for the beach patrol.

“We’re going to get the word out,” Lazarus said. “We’re depending on our hotel properties and management properties to let people know when they come here. Everybody’s going to know.”

Brad Dean, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said it’s too early to tell how the beach tent ban would impact tourism.

“It’s drawn a lot of attention from visitors who have heard of it, but there may be some who have not,” Dean said. “In past years we’ve heard complaints from people who do not like the beach tents, so it’s hard to determine and too early to tell if this will have any impact on tourism.”

Dean said it’s too late to inform visitors via the chamber’s print promotional material, but efforts will be made other ways by the chamber to inform visitors about the new bans and if the county ban passes.

“We always keep people informed of what they can expect when they come to the area,” he said. “We’ll be providing updated information via our website, our mobile website, our brochure app as well as providing a commercial that will run on television channels. In addition to all that, we’ll provide information at our visitors centers.”

Lazarus said retailers should be responsible in letting their customers know that the tents, which can cost up to $200, are no longer allowed on the beach, if the final reading of the ordinance is approved.

“They should do their part in posting it by their tents that these cannot be used on the beach, I suppose,” Lazarus said. “That’s probably a good point, quite honestly.”

Lazarus said he and councilmen have received feedback on the proposed ordinance.

“We’ve been getting some emails about us moving the lifeguard stand up closer to the water and let them put the tents in the back,” he said. “Well, that’s what we did. We have some areas that at high tide, there’s virtually no beach.”

He predicts the first year of enforcement as a challenging one.

“Yes it will be a trying year, the first year, for people who didn’t get the information,” Lazarus said.

Wyatt said that beach patrol has not addressed how it will enforce a tent ban if the county approves it Tuesday.

“We have not yet discussed how we’re going to handle that situation, whether we’re going to remove the tents or whether we’re going to let the beach cleanup crew remove them,” Wyatt said. “I’m sure once the law passes, if it passes, that that will be a discussion forthcoming.”

Wyatt said the beach patrol will continue to be as patient as possible as visitors grow accustomed to what looks like will be the new beach tent law.

“Horry County Beach Patrol knows that we’re the face of Horry County Police Department for millions of tourists,” Wyatt said. “Therefore, we try our best to be community friendly. We believe in helping people. That being said, whenever given the opportunity, we’re always going to give a verbal warning first on tents unless that doesn’t work. Especially with new laws, it’s all about education. We want to educate the public and we want to educate the tourists so that they have a fun, but yet safe, beach environment.”

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