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Beaches: Common rules may mean fewer rules

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Calling beachfront regulations “a patchwork quilt,” a Georgetown County Council member wants to adopt a program from Horry County that will create a unified set of rules across several jurisdictions.

Council Member Jerry Oakley says that Horry County “created a model set of rules.”

“My plan is to try and bring it to Georgetown County,” he told members of the Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association at their annual meeting over the weekend. He said he believes consistent beach rules will lead to a lessening of regulations.

The Horry County ordinance includes a range of restrictions, but provides for local exceptions. For instance, surfing isn’t allowed between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. during the summer except within “surfing zones” designated by the local government. It has passed Horry County Council, but must be approved by the municipalities.

Many of the Horry County rules are already in effect in Georgetown County, such as bans on glass containers, nudity and sleeping on the beach overnight.

Others are more restrictive, such as banning dogs and bikes from the beach from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the summer. The rules also define the kind of floats that can be used.

Oakley and Georgetown County Council Chairman Johnny Morant met with Horry officials this week to discuss the ordinance. The line between the counties crosses the beach at Garden City.

“The rules, if I walk across the county line, are different,” Oakley said.

The new Horry County ordinance bans horses on the beach, but allows temporary exemptions. Georgetown County allows horses from Sept. 15 to March 15. A move to ban horses that was prompted by complaints from property owners at Garden City ran into opposition from riders last year. It was deferred.

“We don’t want to be a solution in search of a problem,” Oakley said. “We want to maximize the use of the resource.”

He plans to watch the progress of the uniform rules through the municipal councils.

The Horry County beachfront includes portions of five municipalities.

Most of Georgetown County’s beaches are in unincorporated areas. Pawleys Island has the only municipal government. Its regulations are similar to the county’s, but with one major difference: the town bans the possession and use of fireworks. State law doesn’t give that authority to counties.

“Our major problem is to convince people they can’t have dogs on the beach unless they are on a leash,” Mayor Bill Otis said. The county leash law allows dogs on the beach to be under “voice command” from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Otis said he doesn’t see the need for a common set of rules with the county.

Georgetown County Council is due to give final approval June 14 to an ordinance that will allow property owners who have created a “fireworks prohibited zone” on their land under an existing state law to extend that zone onto the adjacent beach.

“It’s not a perfect solution. Far from it,” Oakley said. “It’s the law, it comes down from Columbia.”

The sheriff’s office can enforce some limits on fireworks using the noise ordinance, but it’s difficult, Sheriff Lane Cribb told the Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association.

Deputies can write a ticket under the ordinance “if it’s at an unreasonable time,” he said, but he added, “I don’t know when that is.”

Steve Kelsey, an association board member, said he moved to the area from a state that banned fireworks to little effect. “You might pass an ordinance, you’re not going to stop fireworks,” he said.

Another property owner said she believes restrictions on fireworks elsewhere bring people to Litchfield to shoot them off. That leaves the beach strewn with debris from fireworks, especially on July 5, she said.

The association contracts for an extra cleanup along the beach on July 5, so cleanliness shouldn’t be a problem, Ladd Dezendorf, an association board member, said.

“This is a resort community,” said Murray White, who owns a beach house and a rental house at North Litchfield. “We’re getting too many rules and too many regulations.”

There isn’t much going on at the beach today that wasn’t going on years ago, he said, with the exception of the sheriff’s beach patrol on all-terrain vehicles. “I think that creates more of a problem,” White said, adding that he would prefer to have more deputies on the street than the beach.

“All those people on the beach – the tourists – are the ones paying the taxes,” White said.

Oakley said he hopes a unified set of beach regulations will result in fewer but more consistent rules. “The key word is balance,” he said.

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