EDITORIAL: Beach laws: The good and the bad

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Published: Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 05:00 PM.


Rule-makers in Okaloosa and Walton counties have been busy. They’ve drawn up all sorts of new regulations to try to control what people do at the beach. As with most things local government does, their proposals are a mix of bad ideas, so-so ideas, and good ideas that probably can’t be enforced.

In Okaloosa, beach safety officials want the law governing county parks to be changed:

  • To prohibit beachgoers from swimming more than 300 feet from shore.
  • To prohibit swimming, diving, surfing and using watercraft within 150 feet of the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier.
  • To prohibit leaving tents, chairs and other personal items on the beach between midnight and 8 a.m.
  • To prohibit the use of rafts, boogie boards and other flotation devices more than 300 feet from shore.
  • To make it illegal to ignore the instructions of lifeguards and law enforcement officers.

In Walton, proposed revisions to a beach activities ordinance would require beachgoers with dogs to buy 30-day passes; prohibit beach vendors from using electricity in their huts; adjust some fees for beach driving permits; require that personal items be removed from the beach by sunset; and put strict limits on beach bonfires.

The worst of these ideas is Okaloosa and Walton counties’ sudden enthusiasm for banning chairs, umbrellas, toys and such from the beach during certain hours — with the usual threat that these items will be confiscated.

Government may occasionally have good reason to seize and destroy someone’s private property, but taking a child’s beach ball because it was left on the sand overnight? That’s just mean.

As for banning people from swimming more than 300 feet from shore, good luck with that. Beachgoers routinely ignore double red flags — the sternest warning — and plunge into the surf anyway. The 300-foot rule may be a nifty idea but it’s not likely to be enforced.

Walton County commissioners will weigh final approval of their new beach rules Jan. 8. Okaloosa County commissioners will discuss their county’s new rules at a public hearing Jan. 22. If you don’t like the changes, now’s the time to say so.

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