On Feb. 18, commissioners held a public hearing on the proposed “No Trace” ordinance., which would make it illegal to leave holes in the sand, tents, chairs, grills and other equipment on any county beach overnight.
The ordinance was proposed to protect nesting sea turtles, that can become entangled in equipment or in deep holes, and to keep the appearance of county beaches neat and uncluttered. The ordinance would apply to both public and privately owned beaches throughout the county.
When questions were raised about funding and enforcement of the law, a motion by Commissioner Pinki Jackel to pass the ordinance failed 3-2, with Cheryl Sanders, Smokey Parrish and Noah Lockley opposed.
Under the proposed ordinance, tourist lodgings would be required to display a copy of the ordinance at all times. Beach equipment would have to be pulled back in the evenings to the toe of the dunes, and could not encroach on vegetation or to the line of development if dunes and vegetation are not present.
Equipment not in compliance with the law would be collected sometime between sunset and 7 a.m., according to the motion. Jackel had asked for modification of an earlier version that called for collection between 7 p.m. and sunrise.
Josh Hodson, manager of Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park, said that the state has an existing protocol for beach clearance and he suggested to ordinance adhere to the state rule.
Commissioners questioned who would enforce the rule.
Parks and Recreation Director Nikki Millender said members of her staff remove abandoned equipment from the beach, although not on a daily basis. She said the county owns an off-road vehicle dedicated to beach clean up. She said she has employees on call at night to deal with problems at public restrooms and she has investigated having more employees to work in the evening during busy season,
“This is a well-drafted ordinance,” said St. George Island resident Barbara Sanders, herself an attorney. “We need this. It sets a standard and I commend you for that. It’s a good message to get out for safety. I want the citizens who use that beach to support this ordinance.”
There would be no penalty for breaking the “No Trace” law in its suggested form, other than the loss of the property. Confiscated items could be reclaimed at the county landfill.
Parrish objected to the policy of returning property to offenders. “I don’t agree with spending county resources to pick it up and then give it back to them,” he said. “What’s the deterrent? Who’s responsible for this property once we pick it up? Once it’s on the county truck, it belongs to the county.”
Clerk of Courts Marcia Johnson expressed concerns about funding for the beach cleanup. “None of this is currently in the budget,” she said.
She worried about the cost of maintaining the vehicle and patrolling a much larger stretch of beach on a regular basis. She said the county must be accountable for anything confiscated and an auditor would be needed.
Johnson said she believed companies that rent beach equipment should bear the cost of removing abandoned items from the beach. She also worried that tourists may be offended by having their equipment taken.
“I don’t see how Parks and Recreation can enforce it and I’m concerned about going on private land,” she said.
Millender suggested the county investigate generating funds by selling permits for beach weddings. “I think we need to look a little deeper into this,” Sanders said.