My thoughts

by Pat Bradford
Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Despite some sunshine, the Weather Channel forecast is for soggy weather in the Eastern states for much of this remaining week. The good news that we won’t see complete washouts every day in the East is tempered by the bad news that the chances for scattered showers and thunderstorms will exist daily through this holiday weekend.

Merchants, accommodation rentals and the parking meter employees are looking forward to a strong holiday weekend, hoping the forecasts won’t keep beachgoers away.

Several things will be different this year in the town’s response to the tremendous influx of people in and around the beach. The July Fourth weekend is without a doubt the busiest of the year for the beach strand and waterways that can become choked with those looking for a sun-and-fun experience. 

Estimates are for 50,000 to cross the drawbridge to Wrightsville this weekend.

In response, those charged with the safety of all who come have a new strategy. Beginning early in the morning, Thursday law enforcement will be patrolling along the water in a crackdown on those who are looking to make a buck illegally by transporting others to Masonboro Island. 

Masonboro, the uninhabited barrier island that lies between Wrightsville and Pleasure Island, is a national treasure. The island is home to a nice array of wildlife that coexists with the visitors most days, but not all. Its oceanfront beaches and sound front coves are a mecca for those in search of a wide variety of pleasure. They come to surf, sit in the sun, play in the waves, or to stroll the strand, shell hunt, or enjoy the companionship of a four-legged friend. Some camp, primitively; there are no facilities. 

Many others come to enjoy the companionship of humans, as annually the waterway and any exposed bit of sand fills up to the point where it appears as wall-to-wall people and boats.

Typically, too little sunscreen, food, hydrating water and discretion is applied, while a copious amount of alcohol is consumed. 

Law enforcement from Wrightsville will be out early to patrol the island’s docks, while Wilmington police will be on the Airlie corridor, looking to intercept those intent on transporting others to Masonboro in exchange for money. 

This is referred to as the illegal operation of a water taxi — the intent of officials is to interdict it. Those looking to pick up income this way who do not have both a captain’s license and a business permit will find a cold reception this year — receiving a federal citation for operating a vessel commercially without a captain’s license. 

The effort is a preemptive, zero-tolerance one. Experience has taught officials that this illegal ferrying of revelers to the island contributes to the overall problems that have occurred as the day heats up.

Often those who access the island this way have no arrangement to get off at the end of the day. Or those operating this mode of ferrying people simply drop passengers on the return trip on the south end of Wrightsville or at docks along Waynick Boulevard. Many have consumed far too much alcohol. Their behavior can be disruptive, potentially life-altering.  

This is the reason the south end area, home to the Audubon bird habitat, must be manned each July Fourth by volunteers to protect the nesting birds and their eggs from uninvited guests stumbling through the habitat. 

In addition, a new initiative gives police authority over homeowners’ property for trespass violations when a trespass agreement has been signed in advance. Once the agreement is on file, the homeowner need not be present for the police to arrest a suspected trespasser.  

Emergency response time to Masonboro, when a medical or law enforcement need arises, has been an issue due to the congestion and how spread out resources have been. So this year a command center will be set up at the south end coast guard station coordinating communication and response. 

Staffing the command center will be an impressive array. In addition to emergency medical personnel, Wrightsville ocean rescue, fire and police, including the chief; Wilmington police; county sheriff and fire, even New Hanover County Emergency Management will be present.

Wrightsville’s police chief and new town manager are not playing.

Expect citations for alcohol and glass on the beach strand. Once the mass exodus off the beach by motorists as well as boaters begins, expect those under the influence to be ticketed. 

In addition, troopers, along with ALE and wildlife resource officers, will conduct DWI checkpoints near parks and water recreational areas throughout the state from July 4-7. It is a statewide effort called “On the Road, On the Water, Don’t Drink and Drive” by the Highway Patrol, along with the state Wildlife Resources Commission and Alcohol Law Enforcement Division.
When the sun has gone down, expect citations that carry fines for illegal fireworks displays. Private fireworks are not legal on Wrightsville and permits are not issued for commercial entities except once a year for the N.C. Holiday Flotilla’s professional display. Everything else you see lighting up the night sky, while beautiful, is illegal. 

Still, the beach after dark is alive with fireworks, some from private homes or neighborhoods or individuals; some from commercial beachfront entities. This year police chief Dan House has enlisted help from the ATF, as well as the district attorney’s office in an effort to stop the fireworks on Wrightsville.

It could turn out to be the best holiday weekend on Wrightsville and Masonboro in years, and my money is on a successful reduction of the often heinous, plus illegal activity that has, in the past, marred an all-American July Fourth. 

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