Folly goes dry for 60 days

Folly Beach resident Debbie Glazier was one of many people who packed the City Council chambers Tuesday night to speak out in favor of a ban on alcohol on the beach.

FOLLY BEACH — Putting it in a plastic cup is no longer enough.

City Council passed an emergency ordinance Tuesday night to ban alcohol on the sand altogether for 60 days. The decision, effective immediately, will keep the island dry through Labor Day and take away the privilege to drink at the only local beach that still allowed it.

Residents and business owners packed the tight City Council chambers for the work session, filling every seat and lining the walls. So many people came to speak in favor of the ban that many of them withdrew their requests to address the crowd, saying that their neighbors had voiced their concerns.

They described trash left on their property, fear of driving among drunken visitors and the lost opportunity for tax revenue from people bringing booze onto the island, instead of buying it there.

One woman said her family plans to move, adding that they live in a bright blue house and appreciate Folly for its vibrant personality.

“We are not the enemy,” she said.

Resident Andy Norman tossed a plastic bag of empty nitrous oxide chargers from spray cans to the island’s public safety chief — “whip-its” that people huff to get high, which he found on the beach. Norman said he never expected to support an alcohol ban.

“But I never thought I’d see the day when Folly Beach could make Myrtle Beach look classy,” he added.

The emergency ordinance stemmed from a July Fourth gathering that law enforcement officers later described as a “riot.” The event left in its wake of 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 doctoring drinks with date-rape drugs, selling crack cocaine and hallucinogenic “bath salts” and systematically breaking into homes.

Mayor Tim Goodwin told the crowd at Tuesday’s meeting not to “get lost on the Fourth of July,” that people who live on Folly spend the end of each summer weekend cleaning up their yards.

Former Mayor Bob Linville said he has sat on the beach with a can of beer in hand and “enjoyed the devil out of it,” but that the island he knew fell victim to a new culture a few years ago.

“It’s already dead,” Linville said. “You can’t kill it. You can only give it a rebirth.”

Councilman Paul Hume posed the idea of seasonal laws for drinking on the beach or permits for the same purpose, rather than taking the privilege away from people who live on Folly because of a few visiting troublemakers.

“I don’t know how many of our residents are those people getting arrested on the beach,” Hume said. “I kind of think it’s a small amount.”

Councilwoman Dale Stuckey proposed a narrowly defeated amendment that would ban booze between noon Friday and 4 p.m. Sunday. Councilwoman Sandra Hickman pointed out the opportunity for citizen patrols, prompting an outburst from the audience:

“I’m sorry, but that’s (expletive),” a woman yelled. “We’re not policemen.”

The July Fourth episode began with four tour buses that pulled onto Folly Beach that morning. The crowd of drunken revelers that spilled out crammed onto a patch of sand only 75 yards by 30 yards at East 10th Street.

Councilman Eddie Ellis, who went to the beach that day, said a stranger walked up to him, smiled and handed him a beer. At some point in the day fights broke out, according to public safety officers.

The melee ended in seven arrests and injuries to four Folly officers and a Charleston County sheriff’s deputy.

Public Safety Chief Dennis Brown said at the meeting that some residents have blamed his department for allowing unruly behavior, but that officers can’t stop vehicles without probable cause and that they took on an angry mob.

“They were beaten. They were bruised,” Brown said. “Two of them still can’t work.”

Brown said that while the number of incidents on the beachfront has dropped year over year, crime within the city is up. One-third of arrests on Folly Beach involve alcohol, according to city officials.

Authorities still don’t know who organized the July Fourth event. Some residents blame an Atlanta-based event company called A.M.P. and a South Carolina-based clothing company called Good Ole Boys, but A.M.P. owner Evan Rosenberg said the companies are becoming scapegoats.

Rosenberg wrote in an email to The Post and Courier that A.M.P. and Good Ole Boys provided no transportation to Folly, and set up only two of some 30 tents at 10th Street on July Fourth.

He said company officials knew none of the seven men arrested and that a group of volunteers helped with cleanup at the end of the day.

“We wanted the most exposure for our brands; therefore, we wanted to put our tents where most people would see them,” Rosenberg wrote. “Our promotions did not make the location crazier than in years past, which is proven by the decrease in complaints from past years.”

City officials confirmed that tour buses have carried partiers to 10th Street for the past several July Fourth holidays.

Residents who live nearby and across the island waited more than three hours for Tuesday’s unanimous vote. Many stood and most clapped at the decision.

Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or jbird.