County near site of Georgia-Florida game might ban alcohol on beach

A popular weekend for Florida and Georgia college football fans might be a bit dry this fall if an alcohol ban posed by the Glynn County Commission passes.

The commission for the coastal Georgia county will consider the alcohol ban on East Beach on St. Simons Island on Nov. 6 and 7, during which the popular Frat Beach festivities typically take place. Commissioners could vote on the measure when they meet Thursday. The annual football weekend draws droves of college students and fans for the University of Georgia Bulldogs and the University of Florida Gators game, which will take place Nov. 7.

Commissioners are attempting to be proactive with the alcohol ban by hopefully reducing the celebrations on the beach and avoiding COVID-19 infection spikes, like the beach saw after Memorial Day and Independence Day.

“My position is, I think we need to completely shut it down,” commission Vice Chairman Bill Brunson told The Brunswick News. “I’d shut the beaches down if I could, but that’s (Gov. Brian Kemp’s) call.”

ExploreFrom July: Cases of coronavirus disease surging along Georgia’s coast

The governor has blocked local governments from closing beaches.

One of Brunson’s first acts as a commissioner more than five years ago was to try to get the beach bash banned, citing concerns about the resort area’s image.

Credit: ryals stone

Credit: ryals stone

While community image was the impetus, now health is the primary reason for the move to ban alcohol.

“We’re looking at what we can do to mitigate a disaster, if you will,” said commission Chairman Mike Browning.

As of Monday, Brunson did not have logistics on how the ban would be enforced. With beachgoers having the option to mix drinks in tumblers and other containers, implementing the ban could be difficult.

Commissioner Peter Murphy said the county has considered other options already, from cracking down on public drunkenness and open container laws to simply closing the beach. Murphy said he feared a ban could send revelers to other beaches, but said that problem is beyond the county’s control.

“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.”

Glynn County police will be on the beach, as well as Georgia State Patrol and Department of Natural Resources officers. Glynn County Police Chief Jay Wiggins said officials are still discussing how police might enforce the ban. Browning said the county plans to scale back employees who had provided safety, first aid and lost-and-found services.

Georgia’s public health department has reported more than 318,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 7,000 virus-related deaths in the state, while Florida health officials have reported more than 706,000 cases and at least 14,300 deaths among Florida residents.

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Some fear that a ban could hurt tourism in a year that’s already been hard for businesses, said Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Scott McQuade.

“The (Georgia-Florida) weekend historically has been one of the fall’s most busy and anticipated travel periods,” McQuade said.

However, McQuade said this might be a chance to change the event to welcome visitors, “but without the undesired behaviors and single mass gathering on the beach.”

The commission will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday.