Frat beach festivities may be on the dry side this year as the Glynn County Commission looks at banning alcohol on East Beach during the annual revelry.
“We're looking at what we can do to mitigate a disaster, if you will,” said Glynn County Commission Chairman Mike Browning.
It’s not set in stone, but county commissioners will consider banning alcohol on East Beach on Nov. 6 and 7 when they meet Thursday.
The weekend of the annual football game between the University of Georgia Bulldogs and the University of Florida Gators typically draws college students to the Golden Isles, specifically to St. Simons Island. The game is set for Nov. 7.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has brought about bans on large gatherings in Georgia and the rest of the nation.
There is a good reason for the policy. Glynn County, for example, marked significant spikes in new cases of COVID-19 and virus-related deaths following the Memorial Day and Independence Day holidays. The pandemic prompted Glynn County, Jekyll Island and the City of Brunswick to cancel fireworks shows in an attempt to discourage large gatherings.
“My position is, I think we need to completely shut it down,” said commission vice-chairman Bill Brunson. “I’d shut the beaches down if I could, but that’s (Gov. Brian Kemp’s) call.”
Frat beach draws crowds from all over the state, and if COVID-19 spreads among the throng it will go back with them to university campuses across the region, he said.
Brunson was not shy about his distaste for the event, adding that one of his first acts after he took the commissioner’s chair more than five years ago was to try to get the event banned.
While his concerns then were more about the poor image he believed it gave the Golden Isles, Brunson now says he considers the event a public health matter.
He could not say Monday morning how the ban would actually be enforced. It’s a common practice to bring mixed drinks to the beach gathering in non-standard containers, he noted, like gallon jugs. In those cases, a police officer may not be able to recognize it as alcohol by sight alone.
“It will be tough to enforce … but we’re going to do everything we can to mitigate that potential catastrophic event,” Brunson said.
Glynn County Police Department officers will be on the beach along with Georgia State Patrol and Department of Natural Resources personnel. GCPD Chief Jay Wiggins said the actions police could take to enforce the rule, should the commission enact the ban, are under discussion.
The county also intends to ask the state government for assistance should the ban pass, said Browning.
Commissioner Peter Murphy, who represents St. Simons Island, said the county has considered other options already, from cracking down on public drunkenness and open container laws to simply closing the beach down.
“We ended up being the poster child of poor behavior during the spring break when kids migrated to St. Simons,” Murphy said. “Looking at all of our options, I think it’s the strongest option to show to the community, the people of Glynn County, the state of Georgia, that we take this seriously and want to discourage this type of gathering during this unprecedented pandemic.”
Frat beach poses an inverse problem to what Glynn County experienced during spring break, Murphy said. When other nearby beaches closed down, commissioners believed many would flock to St. Simons Island as the nearest alternative. The way he sees it, the shoe is now on the other foot as banning alcohol during frat beach festivities might cause revelers to change their venue to Jekyll Island or other nearby beaches.
Murphy has a simple answer to that possibility.
“The way I feel, that’s not our problem,” Murphy said. “We can only deal with what we have under our control.”
Whether alcohol is banned on the beach over Georgia-Florida weekend or not, Browning said the county plans to scale back its safety, first-aid and lost and found services.
“If someone is in trouble, we’ll respond, but we’re not going to be out there with our county employees in the midst of it,” Brunson said.
Lea King-Badyna, executive director of Keep Golden Isles Beautiful, said trash pick-up efforts won’t begin until after the festivities have concluded this year. The annual Saturday morning-after cleanup sweep is still set to begin at 7:30 a.m. Nov. 7 at the old Coast Guard station parking area. All volunteers are welcome and gloves, trash bags and masks will be provided.