- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (AP) - How do you control a revved up crowd of thousands of alcohol-drinking college-age adults who traditionally amass on the beach at St. Simons Island on the eve of the annual Georgia-Florida football game in Jacksonville?

Tough question, but it’s one past and current county officials are trying to answer.

Eliminating alcohol on what is popularly known as “Frat Beach” during the University of Georgia-University of Florida football weekend is one proposal county officials and community representatives are considering.

Some 30 people gathered Wednesday at the Brunswick-Glynn County Chamber of Commerce to begin working on a way to get a handle on the beach party that requires a presence of police and EMTS because of the amount of drinking that goes on Friday before the game.

The meeting was set up after former county commissioner Cap Fendig requested something be done to get control of the event that draws a partying crowd of almost 10,000 young adults to St. Simon’s East Beach.

Fendig, whose trolley service shuttles partygoers to and from the beach, says something needs to be done about the gross public intoxication, underage drinking, drug use and other crimes that occur on the beach the day before the rival game.

Commissioner Bill Brunson and Commission Vice Chairman Richard Strickland agreed to form a study committee. Brunson will chair it and the panel will include county police chief Matt Doering, sheriff Neil Jump, public works director Dave Austin, recreation department director Wesley Davis, county attorney Aaron Mumford and county administrator Alan Ours. It also will include education officials from the Glynn County Board of Education, College of Coastal Georgia, Georgia Southern University and the University of Georgia, as well as stakeholders like Fendig, realtors, business owners, East Beach Association members and the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Fendig suggests the county turn the event around and make it something people will still want to attend, but have control over it. He used the Wainwright Foundation’s annual concert event as a model for what “Frat Beach” could be.

“We can close off Arnold Road and East Beach Causeway/First Street and have a private vendor come in and create an event that is fun and exciting for attendees but that is also controlled and safe,” Fendig said. “That vendor would sell the alcohol and be responsible for transportation and security. No alcohol would be permitted to be brought in by attendees and a ticket fee will be charged to get in the area.”

An ID showing the individual is at least 21 years old, the legal drinking age in Georgia, also would be required.

“We can make this a premiere destination event and keep it safe and fun,” Fendig said. “It’s up to us to raise the bar and bring this event up to the level of standards St. Simons is used to.”

Another idea: simply ban alcohol on the beach the entire weekend of the college football game.

The county can do that, according to its attorney.

“The county can approve an ordinance that will designate the beach alcohol-free always or for a limited period of time, say a weekend or a month,” said Aaron Mumford.

“The current law on the books says no glass containers on the beach. We can, at any time, for any period of time designate the beaches no alcohol zones. Some popular spring break destinations have done just that.”

In March, Bay County in Florida banned alcohol consumption on its beaches from March 1 through April 18 - the time of year college students head for the coast for spring break.

Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Scott McQuade acknowledged there are negatives to the event, but he added there also are some positives.

“The economic impact on our area is big,” he said. “Hotels, rentals, restaurants and shops see a big boost. But the videos of the wild behaviors going on here that weekend posted on social media platforms are not good advertisement for St. Simons Island.

“How can we mitigate the short and long term problems to make this event a success for everyone?”

Representatives from three state colleges were on hand for the meeting in person or via conference call. All said they want to send a message to students and will let them know whatever the county decides to do in regards to alcohol.

“We are willing and able to send the message to our students that if you go to Glynn County for Georgia-Florida and break the law, you will be arrested,” said Stan Jackson of the University of Georgia.

They will also face violating the student code of conduct once back at school.

Georgia Southern and College of Coastal Georgia representatives echoed UGA’s message.

Some of the students who attend the party are high school students from around the area, those at the meeting claimed.

Hank Yeargan, chairman of the Glynn County Board of Education, said he and his fellow board members will make sure the message is delivered to the students.

He said the board will also talk with surrounding county boards of education to spread the word that underage drinking will not be tolerated.

Leslie Carlton, representing the East Beach Association, said eliminating the alcohol on the beach is good, but it’s just one part of the problem.

“We have 15 to 20 students staying in houses around us and they may not go out to the beach, but they are still drinking and partying,” she said. “I have never seen such lewd behavior. Some of our neighbors send their children off for that weekend.

“Thousands of kids come to this island because they have heard they can come here to party. Clearly many of them are underage. You see them taking gallon jugs of alcohol-laden beverages to the beach and then come stumbling back through the neighborhoods. Some pass out along the roadway. Someone is going to get hurt or killed.”

Patrick Anderson of Coast Cottages says his homeowners have joined together and agreed to no longer rent homes out during Georgia-Florida week.

“We hire security guards to watch over the neighborhood just for that weekend,” Anderson said. “Our homeowners have agreed to abandon the economic argument. We don’t care about the money. We want to protect our neighborhood and our culture.”

Anderson said the county needs to say “no more alcohol.”

“We have had it up to here with these students, with the public intoxication, public sex acts and fights,” Anderson said. “It’s a sad situation. Three-quarters of these students are under the legal drinking age. It’s time to send a large scale message.”

Brunson said the ideas discussed Wednesday will be vetted and that another meeting of the group will be planned soon.

“We have time. Students are off all summer, so we need to have a plan ready and a message set to deliver to them when Greek Week starts so that at the first of school, they are clear what will happen at Frat Beach,” Brunson said.

“The question is, do we enforce the law and do we do so 100 percent of the time or selectively? For parents, a phone call from Sheriff Jump is bad, but one from the hospital or morgue is worse.”

Commissioner Strickland said this is a community problem with no easy answer.

“It is not going to be easy, but together we will try to come up with answers and make this event a safe one for everybody,” Strickland said.

___

Information from: The Brunswick News, https://www.thebrunswicknews.com

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