NEW FOR WEDNESDAY: Councilman Seeks Crackdown On Beach Drinking

OCEAN CITY – An Ocean City councilman is calling for a campaign to remind Ocean City visitors there is to be no booze permitted on the beach.< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office">

At this week’s Mayor and Council meeting, Councilman Brent Ashley said he came across a group of men last weekend loading a large cooler of beer into their car at a local shopping center. He asked where the party was and they responded they were going to the beach. Ashley reminded the men it is illegal to drink alcohol on Ocean City’s beaches and they replied they do it all time while hiding it from the lifeguards.

Ashley then called Ocean City Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin, who told Ashley alcohol is by far the biggest problem on the beach, and although lifeguards keep an eye out for it, people hide alcohol or disguise it.

“Most of the behavior problems experienced on the beach are alcohol related. Numerous rescues have occurred because of alcohol consumption,” Ashley said.

Arbin also informed Ashley he is asking police for increased patrols in the Inlet area because of the alcohol problem.

“From a public safety perspective and in order to maintain a family friendly atmosphere and to return more decency to our beach, I would suggest that we begin a public awareness campaign to actively inform all visitors that we will have a zero tolerance policy towards alcohol or public intoxication on our beach,” Ashley said. “Such a campaign could include but not be limited to, large signs on the beach, messages on our reader boards in town and the entrances into town, as well as messages on the government cable channel. Perhaps messages could be displayed on the buses and trams as well.”

Ashley also asked commercial establishments that sell or serve alcohol to post signs that remind customers that alcohol is prohibited on Ocean City’s beaches.

“Alcohol does not belong on the beach with our families, and we are family-friendly. I think we need to step up our efforts because the beach patrol shouldn’t have to be out there watching for alcohol, they should be watching the people in the water,” he said.

Council President Lloyd Martin pointed out Ocean City has signage prohibiting alcohol at the dune crossing and on the beach but agreed any kind of extra effort to promote alcohol-free areas wouldn’t hurt.

Mayor Rick Meehan said the State Highway Administration’s Walk Smart Campaign that serves as a reminder for pedestrians to cross at marked sidewalks has been successful in educating the public and pedestrian accidents are at a low this summer compared to last year.

“We can’t stop everybody from walking across the street when they are not supposed to but it has stopped  a lot of them,” the mayor said, suggesting such a campaign would not stop people from drinking alcohol on the beach completely but would remind the public of the town’s ordinance outlawing it.

Meehan suggested passing the concept onto Ocean City Communication Manager Jessica Waters who has access to different communication outlets, such as the town’s reader boards on the Boardwalk and crawl messages that run across the television.

Ashley made a motion to forward the idea to post friendly reminders to the public that alcohol is illegal on the beaches in Ocean City and have her report back to the Mayor and Council in ways to do so.

“It is just not on the beach, they are taking it to the sidewalks too,” Councilwoman Margaret Pillas said. “I would like to see a banner when you come into town stating a zero-alcohol tolerance policy on our streets and beaches.”

The council voted 6-0, with Council Secretary Mary Knight absent, to move forward with an alcohol-free zone campaign of sorts.