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Bikers and pollution caught in political crosshairs in Myrtle Beach area

In Under the Outhouse this week, Myrtle Beach is still paying the price for getting regulation-happy with bikers while a Surfside Beach representative wants to limit your right to sue over pollution.

Myrtle Beach Economy Still Feeling the Effects of Bullying Bikers

Walking through the burly, tattooed crowd of Suck Bang Blow, the Grand Strand’s famed biker bar, it is hard to imagine how any of these bruisers could be victims of bullying. However, during the last six years, these bikers found themselves the target of Myrtle Beach and Horry County’s crusade to kill the spring motorcycle rally through a series of Bloomberg-esque regulations. Rigid noise ordinances and employee dress codes, a law requiring helmets for riders (which was subsequently overturned by the S.C. Supreme Court because the city did not have the authority to pass it), and other absurd restrictions -- such as banning “burnouts” -- created a level of hostility towards bikers that pushed them, and their tax dollars, out of state.

“Of the beach rallies east of the Mississippi, Myrtle Beach used to be No. 2 behind Daytona [Beach, Fla.],” Randy Gracy, editor of Southern Biker Magazine, told The Sun News last week, “but when they changed the laws there and said they did not want bikers there anymore, there was a huge backlash – [bikers] didn’t want to deal with it anymore.” While the rally’s reputation is slowly rebuilding, Gracy calls attending still just a “blip” on most riders’ radar. Locally, this translates into less money in the pockets of small business owners and service industry workers who thrive during the week. The damage to Myrtle Beach’s reputation as an essential destination for bikers, and the local impact on the economy, is more than just an example of what can happen when a local government grows out of touch with the best interests of the community. It is a lesson on how even at a local level, the overbearing actions of government-gone-wild can directly impact taxpayers. It seems Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes would rather tax local residents and tourists in order to “fund” tourism advertising campaigns than embrace guaranteed revenue from the rally. And, as this year’s rally just came to a close, signs still suggest it may be too late to reverse the fallout from years of bullying bikers.

Surfside Rep. Seeks to Limit Ability to Sue for Toxic Pollution

According to The State newspaper, a bill co-sponsored by state Rep. Nelson Hardwick (R-Surfside Beach) to further curtail the ability of private citizens to sue for damages from environmental pollution is now a step closer to becoming a law. The bill, which passed in the House in February and is now in front of the Senate Committee on Medical Affairs, seeks to eliminate an ambiguous portion of the 2012 Pollution Control Act that still allows for private lawsuits for pollution occurring prior to June 6, 2012. Should the bill pass the Senate, the public’s only avenue for addressing environmental pollution will be complaining to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). Proponents of the bill say it will reduce frivolous lawsuits from environmentalists; however, critics say it leaves residents helpless in battling pollution.

“We would still have coal ash ponds sitting at Grainger (Power Station in Conway) if we hadn’t been able to litigate,” Nancy Cave, north coast director of the Coastal Conservation League, told The State. Frivolous lawsuits and burdensome environmental regulations hurt the economy and do little to actually protect the environment. Similarly, government bodies, especially local governments, are largely unaccountable when it comes to environmental protection. That is why clearly defining property rights as they relate to pollution is a far more effective vehicle for environmental stewardship. Yet, in order to do so, the citizenry must have the ability to protect those rights in court. It is interesting that Republicans such as Hardwick, who supposedly support strong advocates of property rights, are backing a bill that forces citizens to depend on a government agency (also contrary to Republican orthodoxy) to defend their property from polluters. If legislators are so concerned with these so-called “frivolous” lawsuits from private citizens and environment groups, they should create punitive relief for the victims of such lawsuits in a method similar to anti-SLAPP laws, which protect individuals from legal intimidation related to free speech issues. Courts, not legislatures, should be the arbiters of what is, and isn’t, considered frivolous in the eyes of the law.