The Bay County Commission has taken a step to ensure that the "World's Most Beautiful Beaches" live up to their reputation.
At Tuesday's board meeting, commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance to prohibit beach goers from leaving personal property on the beach. The ordinance applies to all beaches within unincorporated Bay County, which include the mainland, Shell Island and St. Andrews State Park.
Commissioner Mike Thomas led the effort to prevent beach visitors from erecting tents on the beach and leaving them overnight or abandoning them altogether. According to the board's agenda item summary, personal property left on the sandy shore interferes with beach maintenance, security, public access and turtle nesting.
The new ordinance will require all items to be moved above the dune line between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. Owners can move their items below the dune line during daylight hours, but any items left overnight will be removed by Code Enforcement officers or cleaning crews.
"People will get mad but they've left trash on the beach, and that's the way that it has to be looked at," said Thomas. "We appreciate people coming, [but] just leave it like you found it and there will be no problem."
The ordinance does not include a provision for reclaiming items; commissions said administering such a program would be too costly and labor intensive. "If they didn't move it up to the dune like they've been asked to do, don't expect to come find it neatly packed away somewhere," said Commissioner Bill Dozier.
The county will begin enforcing the new ordinance July 1. The county plans to post notices of the ordinance at all beach access points.
Meanwhile, the commission approved an amendment to an existing ordinance governing solicitation on the sandy beach. Photography vendors must now confine their marketing efforts to a stationary booth or stall.
In other business, Commissioner Dozier addressed efforts to re-open the old East Pass from St. Andrews Bay to the gulf. The District 3 commissioner, who favors the project, said it will help "flush" the bay and improve water quality, especially in the area near Tyndall Air Force Base.
Dozier will host an informational meeting on Thursday, June 14, in the commission chamber to review actions taken so far and what will be required to get the project approved and completed. The meeting will be open to the public.