Saturday, July 23, 2005

Dirty Beach Opens to Public

The doors of Pensacola Beach will be thrown fully open to the public beginning at 6 a.m. Sunday, July 24, the Pensacola News Journal reports.

Kris Thoma starts off her front-page article with the predictable, obligatory silliness about "beach bums" once again being able to sink 'toes in the sand' and 'soak up the glorious summer sun.' To her credit, however, Thoma makes it clear not everything's going to be idyllic.
Island Authority General Manager W. A. "Buck" Lee said sand at Casino and Quietwater beaches has been spot-checked for debris but not sifted as it was after Hurricane Ivan. That process will occur later, he said.

Lifeguards have been swimming in the waters off the two main beaches and bringing in floating debris, said Bob West, Pensacola Beach's public safety director.

"We'll have the bulk of debris out of water by Sunday," West said. "But it wouldn't surprise me if there was some more out there."

Waterways and sand outside the lifeguard-protected beaches are even more dangerous, and beachgoers should wear footwear at all times when leaving the core area of the beach.

Rip currents have become more dangerous since Hurricane Ivan changed the layout of the sandbars in September, and Dennis only made things worse, West said. Dennis destroyed the lifeguard towers and all the safety signs that survived Ivan and damaged some of the patrol trucks.

"We'll probably only have three towers completed by Sunday," he said. "Our ability to watch people is going to be diminished to some extent."
No information about the size of the lifeguard staff has been publicly released, but with the fractured summer season and local schools opening the first week of August, it's likely to be greatly reduced.

Is the Island Authority going to warn visitors about the dangerous debris beneath the waves, for example with flyers at the toll bridge? We don't know. Will the Island Authority prominently post cautions about the reduced life guard presence -- using, perhaps, the new electronic sign at the entrance to the beach? Apparently, Buck Lee isn't saying. What steps are being taken to warn swimmers about the "poor" fecal coliform rating at Quietwater Beach? Probably none.

In the ever-present struggle between protecting the public safety and shaking them down for spare change, spare change usually wins. That's why Pensacola Beach was known as "Death Beach" just three years ago. Let's hope newly-apppointed SRIA general manager Buck Lee realizes that and makes a different choice.

No comments: