TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) – The City of Tybee Island announced Thursday they plan to issue citations to beachgoers found on the sandbar at the south end of the island. The citations carry penalties of up to $1,000.
The sandbar is located near the crossovers for 18th Street, 19th Street and Chatham Avenue. For years, city officials have been asking beachgoers to heed signage in the area warning of significant drowning danger.
City officials say citations are now necessary after the signage and education about the dangers of the sandbar did not work. Tybee Island Mayor Shirley Session says the fine is simply the next step.
“The problem is when you get out there before you know it, the high tide starts coming in and it comes in so fast,” said Sessions.
The City says walking over to the sandbar can turn dangerous due to tide changes. Riptides can knock an adult off their feet and carry them away in just a few inches of water.
Sessions says at least five people drowned on the sandbar in recent years. The most recent victim was a 17-year-old boy. It is impossible to know how many people have been saved by lifeguards, fellow swimmer sand fishermen. The mayor suspects the number is high.
“Even the strongest swimmers don’t realize the power of the water,” she said. “We have so many visitors from everywhere who are not familiar with the power of the ocean and certainly not familiar with rip-tides and the dangers of the sandbar.”
City Manager Shawn Gillen had the authority to make the decision without a vote from city council members. Sessions says he took into account concerns from police, firemen and lifeguards who often risk their lives to save people on the sandbar.
Sessions says the city manager has her support and the support of city council.
“We’re really trying to tap into that population who would be more likely not do this if there’s a fine associated with it,” she said.
At one point, Sessions says she hoped to display the names of people who drowned near the sandbar to dissuade people from swimming there. For now, she hopes the fine will be enough.
“I want to do whatever we can to save a life,” she said.
Gillen says the Tybee Island Police Department has the authority to issue citations on the sandbar.
“The jurisdiction question does come up from time to time. It is a violation of beach rules just like swimming out more than fifty yards. If they are caught violating the rule they will be cited,” said Gillen.