Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th century essayist, famously wrote “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” Emerson’s point was about the need for individuals to avoid conformity; he was not concerned about uniformity in laws along the Grand Strand.
Consistency is hardly a hobgoblin in regulating the use of beach tents – a growing, major public safety concern. Consistency will continue to ensure that the same rules apply in the cities of Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and unincorporated Horry County. Uniformity no doubt was on the minds of representatives of the Coastal Alliance when they agreed to seek bans on the beach tents.
Alliance chairman John Rhodes, mayor of Myrtle Beach, spoke to the point: “If we do it all together, then I think the reception will be there because of the safety issue.” The alliance includes representatives of Horry County and municipalities (cities and towns) in the county.
North Myrtle Beach has advanced a summertime ban on the tents, which typically line area beaches. Umbrellas (single pole, no larger than 7’6” high and 6’2” in diameter) still would be allowed. The city, by the way, rents umbrellas and beach chairs. Current ordinances allow tents up to 12 feet by 12 feet in size, with support lines that do not extend beyond the tent. They are permitted between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. and must be no closer to the water than the line of the lifeguard stands. The rules require at least 10 feet between tents but that does not necessarily happen and it is impractical, if not impossible, to enforce.
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Enforcement is a major issue. Horry County Police Chief Saundra Rhodes says county officers handled 3,800 beach tent violations last summer, each taking an estimated 15 minutes.That’s 950 hours – more than five months of one officer’s time. And that’s only on the Horry County beaches. A summer ban on tents, properly posted and announced, could be more easily enforced than the present rules.
County Council chairman Mark Lazarus says he will propose an ordinance along the lines of the North Myrtle Beach change. This week, the subject may be on the County Council public safety committee agenda and before the Myrtle Beach City Council.
In North Myrtle Beach, only councilman Robert Cavanaugh voted nay. He says “I am not sure a total ban will work. I don’t see it as a long-term solution.” Echoing concerns of others, Cavanaugh says from a business perspective, beach tent users are customers who want shade. At the county level, those hesitant about a ban have pointed out beach tent users spend thousands of dollars while enjoying a vacation at the beach.
Concerns are well-taken about offending vacationers, our valued customers. However, the tents pose access problems for emergency assistance. And, need we point out, potential liability problems. Lazarus is correct in saying the beach tent problem is getting worse with increasing numbers of tents being up over several nights and a few left when the vacationers go home. After dark, tents are an obvious danger to people and to nesting sea turtles.
Many beachgoers, perhaps a big majority, find shade from umbrellas, floppy hats, cover-up clothing and, of course, sun screen. When they need medical attention, they must have it. Every time, that trumps the tents.