Many University of Georgia students will head to St. Simons Island on Friday to participate in the unofficial tailgating tradition known as “Frat Beach.” Seeing as several who call St. Simons home have voiced their concerns about the beachfront party, The Red & Black sat down with Glynn County Administrator Alan Ours for an interview about how local officials are preparing for the annual influx of students.
The Red & Black: In the past, when tailgaters have come to St. Simons Island and left trash on the beach, what have been the environmental and pollution effects on the beaches?
Alan Ours: Friday afternoon, before it gets dark, there are several county employees, and we have some heavy equipment — bulldozers and that type of thing. We try to get up as much of the trash as possible. The next day, [Keep Brunswick and the Golden Isles Beautiful] has close to 200 volunteers that come out to pick up any remaining garbage. The environmental effects are, if this trash gets carried out into the sea, sea turtles can digest it, fish can digest, birds can digest the trash and it’s very harmful, if not deadly, to these birds and marine life.”
R&B: How do locals feel about having the tailgate on St. Simons Island?
O: Well, it’s a mixed review. Some like it because the students purchase things at local businesses, they rent hotel rooms, they rent condos, they visit our restaurants, so from an economic standpoint, it’s a good thing. However, there are two main concerns that our community has with it. No. 1 is the safety of the students, the safety of those participating, because large amounts of alcohol are consumed by many of the students. Not all of them, but many of the students. The second concern is the large amounts of trash that they have. Now we’re all for people having a good time, but people should be responsible. And in the past the students pretty much congregated in one area, and in the middle of their crowd they dug a large hole in the sand and they buried their trash, and to me that’s being irresponsible. It’s important for the students to be responsible for their own well-being and safety, for the well-being of their fellow students and also for Glynn County. We’re spending [a] considerable amount of time and resources for county staff, public safety officials and others to make sure this event goes well, and so our request to the students [is] No. 1: They’re conscious of alcohol consumption and they don’t put themselves into a dangerous situation ... so the first responsibility is a responsibility for their friends and then a responsibility for the trash. This year, unlike other years, we’re going to have large garbage containers out there in the middle of the ground — our request is for them to use them.
R&B: This year there is going to be high tide at the usual tailgate site significantly earlier than last year. What effect do you expect this to have?
O: We’re hoping that by 1:30 or 2:00 [p.m.], they will move down to the coast guard area of this beach where the beach is larger. In fact I think a couple radio stations will be down there providing music, so we’re hoping that the students move from where they’re normally at to where the beach is wider because at high tide, then there’s less beach [and] more opportunity for trash to go out into the water. With a high tide, it’s gradual, gradual, gradual, and before they know it people get themselves into a very dangerous situation, so we’re going to be out there in full force to make people aware of the tide change and try to get them out of the water and into shore.
R&B: With the recyclable cooler initiative and a larger call for responsibility overall, why do you think this year things are changing?
O: From a response standpoint with the county, we’re trying to learn each year and improve things each year. For example, this year a local church will be handing out bottled water, as a lot of times students consume alcohol but they don’t put anything else in their body, so they get dehydrated. St. Simons Island is very family-oriented and unfortunately last year two individuals participated in an inappropriate act in the water. And I can’t say that they were University of Georgia students, I don’t know who they are, but it’s reflective of the University of Georgia and because it’s the students’ event. Young people need to be respective of our community, our family values and make sure that they represent the University of Georgia for the University’s values and not participate in activities that are inappropriate.
R&B: What additional safety precautions are being taken?
O: We will have EMS crews and utility vehicles on the beach, where if a young person needs medical attention, they will be able to transport them off of the beach in an efficient manner and get them to the rescue squad. In addition, we started this last year, we have lifeguards in kayaks in the water, so if students get out in the water and get in trouble, we’ll have lifeguards out there to provide rescue if needed [and] we’ll also have the Coast Guard and DNR watercraft close to shore to provide rescue if needed.
R&B: What kinds of things do safety officials look out for?
O: They look out for their ability to respond to their surroundings. If a person is obviously in control of themselves and not in harm’s way, that’s fine, but they look out for those individuals who are maybe having trouble in the water and will get them help to get them back on shore.
R&B: Can students feel comfortable approaching officers if medical emergencies take place? Will there be ‘medical amnesty?’
O: We encourage that. Now, if there’s illegal activity, the answer’s ‘No,’ but they should still be encouraged to seek professional help. But the officers will be there, and if there’s illegal activity they will have to take appropriate action. But our officers are very good about working with the students — I think they’ve demonstrated that the past few years, but obviously if it’s something very glaring than they will have to take action.
R&B: Are there any additional police deployed to keep things orderly?
Ours: Yes, we have additional police and we have the sheriff’s [police van] for immediate transport to the jail, if that becomes necessary.
R&B: Is it possible that if trash from the tailgate continues to be an issue that UGA students wouldn’t be allowed to come back?
Ours: Through our efforts, through the University of Georgia’s outreach efforts, if we all work together to make it a safe and fun event than they can continue to come back. But it is important that we work together to make it safe and fun, and we’re conscious of the fact that we have this trash issue, but if the students will work with local staff on the trash then it won’t be an issue.
R&B: What’s your final message to people planning on attending the tailgate?
Ours: Be safe and be responsible.