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.