FOLLY BEACH — Alcohol on the beach became illegal overnight, but authorities enforcing the new law know that compliance might come more gradually.
Wednesday marked the first day of a 60-day booze ban on Folly Beach and an end to the island’s run as the only local beach that allowed drinking on the sand.
Karla Mueller and Jana Crawford, sisters visiting from Ohio, learned about the emergency ordinance Wednesday afternoon from their bartender at the The Tides tiki bar.
“We thought this would be a great vacation destination, because it’s the only place where you can drink on the beach,” Mueller said. The pair chose Folly instead of Charleston for that very reason.
Now, taking a drink out on the sand could cost as much as $1,092 in fines.
The emergency ordinance came after residents packed City Hall Tuesday, demanding that their elected officials help keep their island cleaner and safer.
For years, Folly Beach has battled against weekend warriors urinating and vomiting in yards, leaving trash behind and disturbing residents’ routines.
The problem culminated on the Fourth of July with a gathering that law enforcement officers later described as a “riot.” The event left in its wake more than 100 bags of garbage, a handful of injured public safety officers and a stack of arrest reports.
Days earlier, the Folly newsletter “The Sandspur” printed a message warning residents about people who doctor drinks with date-rape drugs, sell crack cocaine and hallucinogenic “bath salts” and systematically break into homes.
Residents rallied for an alcohol ban to keep out people who come to their hometown for the sole purpose of getting wasted.
Public Safety Chief Dennis Brown said city officials ordered 61 signs announcing the alcohol ban at beach access points and illuminated signs on the causeway leading onto Folly.
He plans to station public safety officers at key entry points to remind people with coolers about the new law.
“We’re not going to search coolers,” Brown said. “We can’t do that legally.”
But if an officer spots someone with alcohol on the beach, he can impose a fine ranging from $250 to $1,092. The price comes at the officer’s discretion and will be based largely on the offender’s attitude.
“One of the first steps is going to be education,” Brown said. “You can’t correct years of behavior overnight.”
Folly’s Public Safety Department comprises 16 full-time officers, a limited staff to deal with an estimated 60,000 people who pack the beach on busy summer weekends.
Asked if the new law will pull those officers away from more pressing problems, Brown said his department will prioritize its calls and respond to each of them accordingly.
Folly Beach City Council meets again tonight to discuss adding a referendum to the November general-election ballot that would let residents decide whether to make the alcohol ban permanent. What happens between the end of the 60-day emergency ordinance and Election Day remains unclear.
Mayor Tim Goodwin said city officials will consider a possible extension of the ban in those interim months.
“We just need to look at where we are at that point,” he said. Until then, authorities are scrambling to get the word out fast, Goodwin said, with signs, calls to real estate agents and a strong public safety presence.
“We’re not going to have alcohol-sniffing dogs on the beach,” Goodwin said. “(Officers are) not going to wander up to your cooler unless they have probable cause ... but they’re not going to hand out cups anymore.”
Until Tuesday’s City Council vote, residents and visitors could bring alcohol to the beach as long as they kept their drinks in a plastic cup.
The Charleston RiverDogs baseball team capitalized on the news with an announcement Wednesday that tonight’s game would include a beer station near its sandy area called Shoeless Joe’s Hill.
“If you want to enjoy an ice cold beer with some sand between your toes, then Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park is now the only legal place in the Lowcountry you can do so,” the statement said.
Some beachgoers wondered if other islands would ramp up patrols this weekend after Folly’s ban. Isle of Palms Police Chief Tom Buckhannon said his department plans for business as usual moving forward.
“Nothing is going to change because of Folly,” Buckhannon said. When it comes to sneaking alcohol onto the beach, he added, “people always try to do that.”
Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594.