Folly Beach faces a sobering dilemma

Jade Goff of Columbia sips beer out of a cup Saturday, July 7, 2012 on Folly Beach. "When I come to the beach I like to drink a beer to enjoy a peaceful vacation," Goff said. If they band alcohol, I find a new beach."(Tyrone Walker/postandcourier.com)

In an ideal world, grown-ups could enjoy alcoholic beverages while relaxing on the beach. But anyone who’s seen footage of a disgusting Independence Day incident on Folly Beach would know that even at “The Edge of America,” this is far from an ideal world.

So don’t be surprised if Folly Beach City Council, in recognition of that ugly reality, moves today toward making it illegal to have alcohol on the beach.

There’s still a powerful philosophical argument for keeping alcohol legal on funky old Folly Beach. After all, why should the many people who conduct themselves in a civilized manner while drinking a beer or two at the seashore be deprived of that traditional pleasure due to the misconduct of a drunken few?

Too bad that case is so much harder to make after drunken rowdies went dangerously wild six days ago, forcing a difficult choice for Folly Beach.

As our Sunday story recapped the sordid scene: “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.’ ”

Hmm. “A crowd of drunken revelers spilled out of four tour buses ...”

As a letter on this page suggests, maybe Folly Beach, instead of outlawing bringing booze to the beach, should outlaw bringing throngs of drunks to it.

Back to last week’s mess, which left not only new impetus for an alcohol ban but more than 100 bags or garbage on the beach:

Besotted beach-goers, when not fighting among themselves, scrapped with the police as 10 Folly Beach officers and five Charleston County Sheriff’s Department deputies struggled to restore order.

One irate suspect even got physical while trying to take a confiscated bottle of liquor away from one of the law-enforcement personnel, officers reported.

Troublemakers also threw drinks, including beer cans, at the police.

Four Folly Beach police and a county deputy were hurt before the good guys finally got the situation under control. Seven young men (ages 19 to 25) were arrested on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to inciting a riot.

While the peace officers’ injuries were fortunately minor, the increasingly obvious hazards of overly inebriated louts on a beach have become a major public safety concern.

The blend of high temperatures, high blood-alcohol content and a densely packed beach is clearly a volatile brew in an era when far too many young Americans indulge in “binge drinking.”

That’s why many coastal communities — including Sullivan’s Island, the Isle of Palms, Edisto Beach and Myrtle Beach — prohibit alcohol on their beaches. Now Folly Beach appears primed to finally — and grudgingly — join that practical trend.

Up to a week ago, Mayor Tim Goodwin still opposed an alcohol ban. After what happened on a not-so-glorious Fourth, though, he’s coming around to the idea. Many other Folly Beach residents have experienced a similar opinion shift.

So at 5:30 this afternoon, City Council will hold a “work session” to discuss the issue — and perhaps draft an ordinance calling for a referendum on such a ban. That proposal would still have a few hurdles to clear before becoming law.

But if it does, it will send another troubling signal that too many Americans can no longer be trusted to drink — and act — responsibly.

And under the harrowing circumstances, who could blame Folly folks for concluding that alcohol and their beach have become an intolerably risky mix?