Don't fear the sharks; fear the traffic congestion

Business owner and Port Royal must work together so future shark tooth events are safe.

newsroom@islandpacket.comJuly 3, 2014 

A local diver's "Shark Tooth Fairy Hunt" at The Sands public beach this past Saturday got kids away from their game consoles and into the outdoors, and drew a hundred or more people through the area near downtown Port Royal, where customers are always welcome.

Mike Harris makes his living, in part, by selling jewelry made of sharks teeth and other fossils, so the event likely raised awareness of his business, as well as the outdoors.

So should Harris decide to hold another such event, everybody can win -- if everybody stays safe.

Unfortunately, the Port Royal Police Department reported that cars filled The Sands, an adjacent boat ramp parking lot, an overflow lot, both sides of Sands Beach Road and both sides of London Avenue down to 8th Street. Children and adults were walking in the road as both cars and boats were being maneuvered. An officer closed Sands Beach Road, and it took about 90 minutes to clear traffic.

In other words, the hunt, in which Harris scattered sharks teeth across the beach for others to find, created potential for injury and for emergency responders to have difficulty reaching the injured.

Harris promoted his event mostly through social media and word-of-mouth. He was as surprised as anyone by the turnout June 28 and was not cited by police.

But now that everyone is aware of the potential for such turnout, there is no reason for the town to prevent Harris from holding similar events in the future, nor for Harris to not give the town adequate notice so that public-safety agencies can be staffed appropriately.

According to the town's contract for extra-duty police services, it costs $37 per hour, per officer, plus a 5 percent administrative fee, if police are needed at an event. A $50 deposit is also required to use a town park or The Sands, according to the town's reservation application.

Such costs could be a serious disincentive for future events, but perhaps a compromise could be reached -- the town could waive the police fee if Harris pays the park and administrative fees and ensures the events are non-commercial.

Or perhaps Paris Avenue merchants would be willing to chip in for the costs of police officers if the traffic to their business district creates an expense the town cannot bear.

There is quaintness and fun in an event that grew organically and gets young people excited about being outdoors. However, the hunt also illustrates the need for special-event permits and preparedness.

As wonderful as the Shark Tooth Fairy Hunt is, a serious accident resulting from traffic or chaos would be even more awful.

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