By Brian Sherman for Island Eye News
Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island have taken different approaches in their efforts to fight the potential spread of the corona virus. Declaring a state of emergency March 20, the IOP City Council chose to restrict access to the island. On the same day, after two meetings and a change of heart, the Sullivan’s Island Town Council voted to make the beach off limits to everyone from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Both ordinances went into effect the morning of March 21.
At its first meeting of the day, the Sullivan’s Island Council voted to vigorously enforce limiting groups on the beach to no more than 10 people and to mount a public relations campaign to get the word out that the town would be enforcing that rule. Not long after, they reconvened, reacting to the news that both Folly Beach and Isle of Palms had decided to keep the crowds away.
“All our phones were exploding with calls, texts and emails,” Sullivan’s Island Mayor Pat O’Neil explained. “Our residents were concerned that everyone would come here to go to the beach.”
At a second meeting, the Sullivan’s Island Council voted not to restrict access to the island but to clear the beach between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.
“Setting up checkpoints at the causeway and Breach Inlet would have caused a giant traffic mess and used lots of manpower,” O’Neil said. “We didn’t want to cause an inordinate amount of disruption, and we wanted to keep it safe. We don’t want to contribute to the spread of the virus among people who come to our beach.”
“We changed our mind because conditions changed drastically,” he added. “We were concerned that we would be the only beach open to nonresidents. This will shut down the busiest time for crowds without discriminating against nonresidents and having to man checkpoints, with consequent traffic backups.”
O’Neil pointed out that the Council had an interesting and interested visitor at its second gathering of the day – sort of. Gov. Henry McMaster called the mayor during the meeting to discuss the situation at South Carolina’s beaches, and O’Neil asked if could put his phone in speaker mode. The governor complied and joined local Council members for the remainder of the meeting.
The Sullivan’s Island ordinance will be in effect for 61 days, until May 21, but O’Neil pointed out that “If everything clears up, we can always backtrack.”
Local residents and others will be able to continue to visit the IOP beach, though Mayor Jimmy Carroll pointed out that the town is encouraging social distancing and groups of no more than 10 people. Carroll said checkpoints would be set up at the intersection of the IOP Connector and Palm Boulevard and at Breach Inlet from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to keep some people off the island.
Those who will be permitted to pass through the checkpoints include: IOP residents and property owners with a current parking decal, 2019 and 2020 resident parking decals, hurricane re-entry stickers or wild Dunes resident stickers; relatives or friends who are with a resident in a vehicle with a current parking decal or proof of residency; caretakers; service workers with current decals; short-term renters with a short-term rental contract, hotel guest pass or Wild Dunes QR code; delivery personnel, including but not limited to pharmacies, FedEx, UPS, Amazon and USPS; personnel delivering essential medical services, including caregivers; and employees of local businesses, including but not limited to grocery stores, restaurants, contractors, short-term rentals and property managers.
The ordinance will be in effect for 14 days.
Carroll explained why the Isle of Palms City Council took action.
“This virus is just multiplying. It’s snowballing. We were going to do baby steps earlier, but seeing the crowds on the beach yesterday, we had to jump quickly,” he said. “The beach was just packed. We had to do it for public safety. Everybody has to wake up to this thing and try to prevent it.”
“This ordinance is in reaction to ever-changing circumstances, including the recent closures of county parks, which in turn are driving people in larger numbers to our beaches,” he added. “Doing nothing increases the risk of community spread and exposure.”
Carroll pointed out that to see the complete ordinance and obtain the latest information on the city’s efforts to combat the corona virus, visit IOP.net, and click on “Latest News” at the top of the page.