FOLLY BEACH — Something changed for Mayor Tim Goodwin this Fourth of July when he spotted two children walking straight toward a horde of drunken people fighting and tearing off one other's clothes in the sand.
The children's parents had married on Folly Beach years ago and brought their family out to the island to see their special place. But beach-goers started urinating in the yard of the family's vacation home first thing in the morning, and others had passed out in the lawn by mid-day, Goodwin said.
By evening, the scene at East 10th Street still wasn't suitable for children.
“I had to go tell that family that was renting the house across from the walkover that they couldn't take their children to see the fireworks, because they didn't need to see what was going on at the beach,” Goodwin said.
“When we lose those people because of day trippers, our whole economy is going to be turned around.”
That's why, gradually over the past few years and even more so this week, Goodwin has warmed to the idea of banning booze on Folly Beach. City Council will meet for a work session to discuss the issue at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers.
Goodwin said the session could result in an ordinance calling for a referendum on an alcohol ban. Even if read at the council meeting at 7 p.m. the same day, the ordinance still would have to pass through two more readings before it winds up on a ballot for Folly Beach voters in the November election.
“It will keep out mass gatherings if you can't drink on the beach, but people are still going to sneak out there and drink,” Goodwin said. “Will it help control garbage? Yeah, but it's not going to be the panacea, cure-all for everything. I think everybody needs to go into it with their eyes wide open.”
Concerned residents can speak at the work session and at the regular meeting that follows.
The discussion stems, in large part, from one especially massive gathering on July Fourth that left a wake of more than 100 bags of garbage, a handful of injured public safety officers and a stack of arrest reports.
A crowd of drunken revelers spilled out of four tour buses onto a patch of sand only 75 yards by 30 yards at East 10th Street, then began fighting, according to officers, who termed the melee a “riot.”
Days earlier, Folly's newsletter “The Sandspur” printed a message warning residents about people doctoring drinks with date-rape drugs, selling crack cocaine and hallucinogenic “bath salts” and systematically breaking into homes.
Public Safety Chief Dennis Brown said that, while the number of incidents on the beach front has dropped year over year, crime within the city is up.
One-third of arrests on Folly Beach involve alcohol, according to city officials. No other local beach allows drinking.
Councilman Paul Hume said he wonders if an alcohol ban would punish well-behaved residents and visitors, while people who break the law will continue their own patterns. Hume said the referendum should come from a residents' petition, not from a council vote.
“It's a knee-jerk reaction to a situation that happened on the Fourth,” Hume said. “I think Folly Beach has been victimized by a planned mobile party. They came knowing what they were doing was illegal. If you look at the rest of the beach, I think you'll find that, compared to just two or three years ago, we have far less incidents of trash and trashed people.”
Eric Rowland, a clerk at Bert's Market, said he worries that an alcohol ban would keep public safety officers too busy writing open-container citations to keep any real disorderly conduct in check.
“It's not going to affect anything at all but our revenues,” Rowland said. “I say our revenues, but I mean Folly Beach in general.”
David Owens, a resident since the 1970s, used to feel that way. Then, with this most recent holiday, he felt trapped in his own home on East 10th Street while strangers urinated in his bushes.
“I've always been opposed to outlawing alcohol on the beach,” Owens said. “But after the Fourth, I'm convinced we need to do it. It was just an ugly, disgusting mess out there.”
Resident Susan Breslin said she worries about the long-term effects from people who come to the beach with their coolers packed. They spend no money in Folly's restaurants and bars, she noted, but they cost money in cleanup and policing.
“The city that I'm a part of is being hurt by this,” she said. “The businesses are being hurt. People don't want to move here. People don't want to rent here.”
People who don't live on Folly don't know, Breslin pointed out, that the island's hard-partying reputation comes and goes just as sure as the traffic onto the island.
Catie Langdon of Charleston pour herself a beer Saturday, July 7, 2012 on Folly Beach. (Tyrone Walker/postandcourier.com)×
Wednesday’s events left a wake of more than 100 bags of garbage on Folly Beach, a handful of injured public safety officers and a stack of arrest reports. (Jessica Gail Ward/Provided)×