Gov. Nikki Haley said while she believes Atlantic Beach Bikefest must end, if the area is able to get the violence that happens in other parts of the Grand Strand under control the motorcycle rally can continue.
“I have made it very clear that I want to see Bikefest come to an end,” she said Monday to a room full of about 80 law enforcement officers in town for a summit to address issues surrounding the event. “I understand that it’s going to take a few years.
“They can continue to have Bikefest if they follow our rules. They can continue to have Bikefest if the violence goes away. They can continue to have Bikefest if they understand that we have a reputation that we have worked hard to build up. ... But that hasn’t been what they’ve done.”
Atlantic Beach officials have said they have no plans to end Bikefest.
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“I just wish we could get more respect and involvement out of the people in Atlantic Beach,” Haley said. “I’ve gone and talked to their council. This group has tried to reach out to them. We’ve gotten nothing. We’ve not even gotten a response.
“So it really is that if you see all of these other communities working so hard to keep the area safe it would really be nice if the city of Atlantic Beach would step up and say, ‘You know what? We have a role to play in all this and we should step up and do something about this.’ ”
Town manager William Booker, new Atlantic Beach Chief Timothy Taylor and Lt. Nick Trevathan attended the summit Monday.
Haley said her office has scheduled a meeting with Town Mayor Jake Evans for later this week. Booker said he and Evans will sit down with Haley, as well as the town’s new police chief and other Atlantic Beach officials on Thursday.
“We’re willing to work together,” Booker said. “We don’t want to see any more of these tragic events in our area.”
Officers from throughout the country are in Myrtle Beach this week to share experiences handling large events as the city continues to develop plans for controlling violence and crowds next Memorial Day weekend.
Myrtle Beach Police Chief Warren Gall organized the event, the first of its kind in Myrtle Beach, after three people died and seven were injured in eight shootings on Ocean Boulevard this Memorial Day weekend.
The summit will continue Tuesday at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center and is not open to the public.
Haley said the state spent $1.3 million sending 273 officers to the Grand Strand for Memorial Day weekend. The state has pledged to send more officers next year.
“You have my commitment,” she said. “You have the strength that is behind my commitment. ... And you will have the resources to do that.”
Myrtle Beach has released initial pieces of a plan it has to get the weekend under control, including re-establishing an emergency lane on Ocean Boulevard and designating one-way traffic on the Boulevard from 29th Avenue North heading south to Kings Highway.
The city also plans to use a 40-mile loop to route drivers on Ocean Boulevard out of the city between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. on Memorial Day weekend, heading south toward Surfside Beach, through Socastee and then toward North Myrtle Beach.
The proposed traffic circle would require drivers to travel south to S.C. 544, west to S.C. 31, north to S.C. 22 and east to U.S. 17, where they would head south back toward Myrtle Beach. It takes about an hour to make the drive in normal traffic. The goal is to ease crowded streets in Myrtle Beach during the holiday weekend.
Haley said she is encouraged by the city’s plan for next year’s Memorial Day weekend and understands that there are some residents and businesses concerned about having traffic in their part of town that doesn’t normally occur.
“[The traffic loop] was not just an idea that they came up with,” she said. “It’s something that other cities have done. ... There is a method to the madness.”
Horry County Chairman Mark Lazarus said he’s concerned that the traffic loop could create some unintended consequences for areas that don’t normally have to deal with heavy traffic on Memorial Day.
Daytona Beach police Capt. Lance Blanchette said the city uses traffic loops during its larger events, such as NASCAR and black college reunion events, that are about 7 miles around.
“The idea of 40 miles seems ambitious to me,” Blanchette said. “It’s going to take a lot of manpower. Crowds tend to create their own traffic patterns where there are no turnarounds. As long as you have proper manning for that 40 mile loop, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Blanchette said it takes about 200 officers to man their 7-mile loop. He said it would take more than 1,000 officers to man a 40-mile loop through downtown Daytona Beach.
Miami Beach Patrol Capt. Enrique Doce said it takes 200 officers and 200 private security officers to man their 5-mile loop.
Blanchette noted that Daytona Beach’s layout is different than Myrtle Beach’s proposed loop. About half of Myrtle Beach’s loop would be on state highways.
Gall stressed that the 40-mile loop was not all through an entertainment district.
“The first 12 miles is already covered by our traffic plan with barricades and police officers,” Gall said, referring to the stretch of Ocean Boulevard where there will be one-lane traffic and an emergency lane.
“This is ground zero for this event,” he said. “Highway 31 has limited access, you can’t turn around unless you turn around in one of the highway patrol [turnaround areas]. ... But it’s very rural. There’s nothing on either side of this but swamps and woods.”
Several law enforcement agencies – including Atlanta, which addressed safety concerns due to several events being held on July 4 but did not discuss Freaknik issues – presented best practices for the unsanctioned special events that occur in their areas that are similar to what Myrtle Beach deals with from the overflow from Bikefest.
Several agencies emphasized the importance of having a highly visible police presence, communicating with other agencies and with the community, and using social media not only to know what’s going on in the area but also to share information with the public.