Gov. McMaster orders closure of public accesses to all South Carolina beaches

Updated: Mar. 31, 2020 at 8:47 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) – South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order on Monday that closes all public access points to the state’s beaches.

The executive order also closes all public boat ramps, landings and other access points on the state’s lakes, rivers and waterways.

“As a result of behavior observed this past weekend by the Department of Natural Resources and SLED, it has become necessary to close public access to our state’s beaches, and to close boat ramps and landings on our state’s lakes, rivers and waterways,”McMaster said. “This is unfortunate for those who chose to responsibly follow the instructions of our public health officials, but it is a necessary action to prevent the spread of this dangerous virus.”

According to the S.C. Beach Access and Water Quality Guide, there are more than 360 public beach access points in Horry County alone.

The order goes into effect immediately and will last until the State of Emergency is over in South Carolina.

The governor’s executive order does not apply to people with a current and valid commercial fishing license or people who use public piers, docks, wharfs, boat ramps or boat landings that are used for commercial fishing activities.

The order doesn’t impact private property owners living on beaches, lakes, rivers or waterways.

WMBF News reached out to several leaders in Horry County and along the Grand Strand. Many of them felt blindsided by the executive order and some found out about it when we reached out to them.

Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said the city had no overcrowding issues this weekend and saw complete compliance from those who were asked to break up large group gatherings.

“That is why this is just completely out of the blue. There were no conversations about this. We were not given a heads up. We found out pretty much when you did,” Bethune said.

Bethune said she wishes that the governor would have better communicated with local leaders before sending out the order.

“I am upset that didn’t take place beforehand. We are going to try not to overreact and get our facts straight and regroup in the morning and figure out what we need to do from here,” Bethune said.

Surfside Beach Mayor Bob Hellyer said town leaders had recently discussed the possibility of closing beach accesses, but they weren’t given a warning about the governor’s order.

“Nobody knew when we had that conversation today that the governor was going to do this,” Hellyer said.

Bethune said the city will meet on Tuesday to put an action plan in place to enforce the new order. The city of North Myrtle Beach added that it will also put a plan together on Tuesday morning to make sure it’s in compliance with the executive order.

Hellyer also said that they will work aggressively to enforce the order but added that it will take a lot to close the beach accesses.

Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught said keeping people off the beach may be a little tougher than enforcing gatherings.

“We can control gathering like we control fireworks, bonfires and stuff like that on the beach. We can control that stuff and activity, but we can’t ban people from going to the beach,” Vaught said.

The city of Conway added that it will close the boat ramp at the Conway Marina at 6 a.m. Tuesday. Officials said barricades will be placed to block access with police patrolling the area and the S.C. DNR will enforce the waterways.

WMBF News spoke to beachgoers just moments after the executive order was announced. Vanessa Suggs, who is a nurse, said she’s upset to hear that her stress reliever was going away.

“I’m a nurse, and the beach is like my therapy and my escape from the stress at work,” Suggs said.

But even though she’s disappointed she understands why the decision was made.

“I don’t feel like we’ve hit the peak of COVID yet, and a lot of people aren’t heeding the governor’s orders to stay home,” Suggs said.

Anyone who violates the order will be charged with a misdemeanor and, if convicted, may be fined up to $100 or spend a maximum of 30 days in jail.

Copyright 2020 WMBF. All rights reserved.