Litter on our beach, pay $500 fine.

by March 30, 2009 • 12 comments

Last week the Beach City Council changed the way it enforces “beach litter” on Panama City Beach.  Before, as long as the trash was picked up within 24 hours, it was ok.  Now, property owners can be fined if any trash is found on their property – period- regardless of how long it has been there.  The only check in place is that the decision has to be made with “common-sense.”

This new ordinance would require that property owners continuously police the beach to ensure that it is clean so as to prevent fines.  The baseline penalty for each infraction is $250 per day.

I think that the spirit behind this decision is well intended, but I’m not so sure this is the way a clean beach campaign should be carried out.  I was talking to a friend the other day, who is a beachfront property owner that was outraged at this decision.  Her argument was that if beachgoers trash the beach in front of her condo building, but are not actually occupying a residence there, why should the condo community be held liable for their littering?  I can see how this could be applicable to a larger beachfront resort or club when the majority of the trash left behind would be a result of their concerted efforts, but what about the little guy?  If I own a beachfront house next to a public beach access, why should I have to pay a fine when someone else trashes the beach behind my home?

I think we’re close, but not there yet.  I agree that someone needs to be held accountable for the trash, but I think I’m going to side with the property owners this time, even though I don’t always agree with what they are trying to do (talking more to the big clubs, etc.).  I believe by telling the property owners that they need to keep their property clean regardless or they get fined, we are NOT moving in the direction of telling the offenders that they are in the wrong by putting the trash on the ground in the first place.  By doing this, we are simply continuing to encourage visitors to our area to litter, enforcing the attitude, “Don’t worry, just throw your trash on the ground, someone will come by and pick it up later.”

Will fining the property owners work in deterring trash build-up on our beaches?  I think so, but it sends the wrong message, and that’s the point. Plus, it is only a batch over a gaping hole, when in actuallity a whole new pair of jeans is needed.  What’s the right message?  We need to convey to visitors of our area that they can be on vacation from school or work, but not their civic responsibility of keeping the environment clean.  They aren’t allowed to throw trash on the ground at home, and they shouldn’t be allowed to throw trash on the ground here.

So, what do I propose?  I thought you’d never ask.  I propose that we keep the same ordinance in place (sorry owners) but it needs to be more specific, plus we need to fine those that are littering our beaches with their waste.

For the property owners

  • If you are a club or resort
    • You must have staff present and visible during activities cleaning and picking up trash where reasonable (obviously staff couldn’t be expected to be in the middle of 15,000 people at a concert)
    • If staff is not present or some sort of cleanup process is not taking place, then the property owner is given a warning, then fined if the problem is not taken care of by the same time the next day.
    • You are required to hand out a beach awareness flier that not only includes information about the flag system but also informs their guests of the penalties and fine associated with littering.  This flyer would also inform them that there are xx number of trash receptacles on the beach for trash disposal and plastic bags available at no charge to them available at the front desk (provided by the city/tdc).
  • If you are a private property owner (beach front residence single family or attached or residence only condo development)
    • If significant amount of trash is found behind residence, the owner is given a warning with the opportunity to verbally dispute.  If an agreement was made that the trash was the result of someone other than the owner, then the owner is not held liable.

For the Visitors to our area

  • If you litter on the beach and are caught, you’ll be given a $500 fine.  This includes cigarette butts.  This rule would be enforced using common sense.
  • When you check in to a condo or hotel, you’ll be given a flier notifying you of this and you will have the option of taking plastic bags with you to the beach should you feel that walking back and forth from your post on the beach to the trash receptical for every beer can is not worth your time.
  • You’ll be expected to keep your area clean with trash in a plastic bag, not laying about to be cleaned up at the end of the day.
  • Obviously, this law would be enforced within reason.  If there are 15,000 people at a concert behind Boardwalk, patrons couldn’t be expected to be walking around with plastic bags.

Does a $500 fine sound steep?  Well, Don’t Mess with the Beach.  TDC, you can have that slogan free of charge from me.  The problem is that our visitors think they can just throw the trash on the ground and someone else will clean up after them.  We have to change this message and make it clear that it is never ok to leave your garbage on the beach.  This is our most valued asset, but no one would know it because the rules we have in place don’t reflect that.

As part of the marketing campaign that the TDC is putting on, we need to allocate a budget to put up billboards, print flyers, advertise on web sites (mine please) that we are serious about keeping our beach clean.  We need to hire FloRida to sing a music video about putting trash in its place and play it on local TV stations for all to see that come to our area.  And, lastly, and certainly most importantly, we need to give officers the ticketing authority to go out and enforce this.  If we need to hire people that can do this, it will be well worth the effort.  We will make money off this immediately, but in the long-term, that money will slowly go away, as people realize that we don’t play around with litterers.

The eventual effect will be that people, when they think of our area, will remember that we value our beach greatly and that littering here is out of the question.  Some will be deterred by this and won’t come anymore, and we’re better off that way, as they are dirty and disrespectful.  Others will tell everyone they know about the great beautiful place they visit every year called Panama City Beach and that it never has trash on its beaches.  Our area will be virtually trash free because the burden of responsibility will not be too large as the burden will rest on those that are creating it on an individual basis.

thoughts?

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1 Penny March 31, 2009 at 7:21 am

I like your idea. Something must be done. When I walk on the beach I always carry a plastic bag or two, and usually end up filling at least one with trash. People need to be reminded to keep their area clean through the marketing ideas you described. Then there must be consequences for littering.

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2 david March 31, 2009 at 8:05 am

Jason, I agree with you and your ideas are good. The persons littering must be held accountable for their actions. Littering up the beaches is just plain selfish and ignorant. It seems that everytime I go out in front of Laguna and pick up trash, others either pitch in to help or say “thanks” for picking it up. I just remain baffled at the person who left it there in the first place. The are trash cans all along the beach – use them – OR PAY!!

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3 Lori Duncan March 31, 2009 at 8:09 am

Penny, I do the same. I’ve spent countless mornings picking up trash, most of which has just washed up on the shore. I can think of better ways to spend my “too few” visits to our condo.

It’s encouraging that the BCC is at least “thinking” about the problem, and I’d say way late. But fining the individuals for dropping the trash, not just the property owners. Also, have they considered that beaches are windy so much of the time. Trash may originate several feet to several blocks down the beach and end up right outside your door. When I see trash right outside my back door, I pick it up, but it didn’t come from me. On any given morning, I may find construction tape, pieces of paper cups, any number of items on my patio that weren’t there when I went to bed. And I KNOW there was no party there during the night. The sand crabs surely didn’t bring it in. The wind blew it in. Should I be fined for this? No and I’d fight it tooth and nail if I was. Just like walking a dog on a pet-free/poop-free beach…get caught, get fined. The perps are the ones that should pay, not the property owners. Spring break students, beach wind, tides…those are your culprits, for the most part.

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4 Kirk Lancaster March 31, 2009 at 8:44 am

Jason! You sound like a PCB Newbie, walking in here and throwing down a common-sense solution such as “enforce the litter laws in the first place.” You know common sense does not prevail around here! :c)

If we don’t have enough resources to put into law enforcement for the really bad stuff, do you think they’re ever going to start writing tickets for trash and glass on the beach? The ONLY thing you can do on our beaches today that will surely get a law enforcement officer to make you leave the beach is to have a dog with you. Glass, trash… no enforcement ever.

For you individual property owners, no worries for you. It’s laughable to think they would ever even look at your property. They are very specifically going after Boardwalk, Spinnaker, La Vela, Summit, Sharkey’s and any other place that host the huge crowds. An individual condo or home owner will never get a ticket. An association, perhaps, but no owner.

I’ve been monitoring the trash for 3 years over at KeeptheBeachClean.com. I would love for any of you regular trash picker-uppers to also take your camera and submit photos.

Also, a fun little twist to this bold new stance on litter enforcement: now we get to monitor how well the local leaders keep our PUBLIC beaches clean AT ALL TIMES too! Since they’re keeping the burden off the actual litterbug, and putting it on the stewards of the land… we can hold them accountable for their beaches as well!

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5 Nick from the North March 31, 2009 at 8:45 am

I like the new ordinance and I also pick up trash when I walk the beach and I’ve seen others do the same. However, without enforcement and widespread support the ordinance is meaningless. Where are the additional dedicated resources coming from to address this problem. There is only so much they can do and they must prioritize.

Moreover, the police, prosecutors and judges are too influenced by the spring break business interests and the politians who are in their pocket. I’ve witnessed it happening in my presense and so say this from personal experience. The trash problem, and others, are happening and spilling over onto public property. Out police must be given the resources and support needed to effectively address it. These costs should be paid for by the businesses who are are responsible for the problem and profiting from the spring breakers.

The TDC must first view this as a quality of life issue and second consider the tourists, vacationers, and snow birders who will not return because of the trash, the spring breaker conduct in general and the eyesores.

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6 Patricia Murdoch March 31, 2009 at 11:06 am

I am so glad that things are being done to stop littering..the most litter we see is during Spring Break. Yesterday I was at the beach found a place away from the spring breakers and a large group young guys came over and lit up a joint and piling their beer cans on the beach. It was so annoying that I decided to leave. A couple close by said they were wondering when I was going to get enough. I agree with Lori Duncan who commented, that the property owners should not be completely to blame.What about the county pier?? Most of property owners are renting their units or homes and live in another state. I also noticed that there haven’t been many children the past few weeks…that is sad..they are on spring break too…But I do try to think positive and say to myself that this helps our economy at the beach to have the spring breakers here but what is the costs of cleaning up our beaches?? Not only is our beaches trashed but the roadways…We have the beautifulest and largest beach in the panhandle…and I for one love where I live…I just wish that the people that come to visit us would respect our beautiful paradise and see it for its beauty and to keep it that way…it’s just a short walk to the trash can…about the same distance to walking into a store and buying the beer that trashes our beaches…

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7 wfn March 31, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Many states have enacted can/bottle deposit laws. When they implemented one in my state some years ago, the parks, streets and waterways improved overnight. In a state like Florida, whose biggest selling points are climate and natural beauty, a bottle/can deposit law would do wonders.

On the flip side my home state can’t seem to pass a “no smoking” in restaurants law…

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8 Jellen March 31, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Ah! WFN — you’re from Michigan, aren’t you?! That state’s bottle deposit law really does work. Michigan has a lot of beautiful beaches and they are clean. Don’t you think that spring breakers who arrive in PCB with $200 for a week’s worth of partying would be all over the beach looking for returnables to cash in for the bottle deposit? It sure happens in Michigan.

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9 wfn April 1, 2009 at 7:18 pm

Jellen,

Absolutely correct, The Great Lake State.

I envision, as in Michigan, people would be picking up cans and bottles and turning them in by the shopping cart for the quick cash. The beaches would be scoured clean.

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10 Lori Duncan April 1, 2009 at 9:39 pm

I love the idea of bottle deposits. Any way they can do that for cans too? I grew up in California and collecting bottles was how my brother and I saved up vacation money.

Kirk, I sure will take some photos if I see any trash in May, but it won’t really be much to photograph on our beach in the west end. But if I find some, I’ll snap a few shots and send them in!

Hey, you guys all know that discussion between the non-smoker vs. smoker…”If you don’t blow smoke on me, I won’t spit on you…” Well, in that context, I say to the littering tourists, “don’t litter our beaches, and we won’t come to your campus and dump our trash!”

Also, are any of us fed up enough with the littering to approach an offender after witnessing it? I think I will now. I didn’t used to be “one to speak up” but I can SO see myself asking someone to pick up what they just dropped on the ground. Maybe I’m just getting grouchy in my old age. Then again, I may get a kick in the chin! At least I’ll have made my point! 😉 But that’s just me!

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