Deputies cracking down on beach drinking on Hilton Head for Memorial Day weekend

tbarton@islandpacket.comMay 25, 2012 

Before you head to a Hilton Head Island beach this Memorial Day weekend, lose the booze.

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office and Town of Hilton Head Island are cracking down on beach drinking after numerous complaints in recent years from Forest Beach residents about excessive litter, noise and rowdiness -- the byproduct of loud and prolonged parties attended mostly by college students who flock to the island during the long holiday weekend and spring break.

Deputies stepped up beach patrols this week and are handing out more tickets than in years past to hammer home the point that residents' tolerance for the booze-fueled revelry has worn thin.

Over the past two weeks, the Sheriff's Office has issued 50 tickets for alcohol on the beach, compared to about five during last year's party period, said town attorney Brian Hulbert.

"We want them to enjoy their time here but be mindful of the peace and tranquility of the island, especially at night and in these residential neighborhoods," Hulbert said. "We've told the students they could be arrested and taken to jail or issued" a ticket. "We were more likely to warn you last year; whereas, this year we want to make sure they understand they have to obey our laws.

"Fortunately, they've been polite, well-behaved and understood the message."

Hulbert sent letters in February to short-term rental agencies in the North Forest Beach area that typically rent to students, alerting them of enforcement plans that include extra patrols through the neighborhood. The letter requested their help in curbing unruly behavior.

Hulbert and code-enforcement officers also went door to door informing students as they arrived of state laws and local ordinances on underage drinking, noise, littering and alcohol on the beach.

If convicted, penalties include a fine of as much as $1,092 and up to 30 days in jail.

Some rental companies, tired of the complaints, have also decided this year not to rent to college students, requiring renters be 25 or older and that they are the ones staying on the premises. They're screening to make sure students are not getting around the policy by having older people book the rentals for them, Hulbert said.

Maggie Miller, 21, a junior at Ohio University, said she and her friends had difficulty finding a condo on the island as a result.

This is the second year they've made the 10-hour trek from Athens, Ohio. For years, it has been a school tradition for students to migrate here during Memorial Day weekend for a last bash on the beach before returning for finals.

"It's unfortunate other students' poor choices have put somewhat of a damper on things," Miller said. "The community is awesome, and the people who live here are incredible and nice. I don't blame them for wanting to keep things under control. Some (students) may be too rowdy, but we plan on being respectful."

In fact, she welcomes the stronger enforcement.

"Last year, there was a lot of trash on the beach," Miller said. "And the deputies are being incredibly reasonable and very nice."

Other students were not as enthused.

"Fest me, don't arrest me," 21-year-old junior accounting major Tyler Baier said.

Town Councilwoman Kim Likins, who represents the area, said the situation has improved.

"They certainly are not perfect, and we have not gone without numerous incidents," Likins said. "But the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office has done an excellent job ... and town code-enforcement officers and the town staff attorney have also been extremely helpful. We enjoy having (the students) here, but obviously, we want it to be a peaceful vacation -- one that residents in that area can live with."

Related content

  1. Beaufort County law enforcement prepares on water and land for busy Memorial Day weekend: May 23, 2012
  2. Councilwoman asks for deputy 'surge' during spring break: Aug. 1, 2011
  3. Teams help Beaufort County law enforcement combat crime trends: Feb. 7, 2012

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