DESTIN — During the peak of the summer season, crowds on local beaches make it very difficult for lifeguards and other first responders to reach swimmers and other people in distress, said Joe D’Agostino, beach safety division chief for the Destin Fire Control District.
“In some instances around the holidays, like the Fourth of July, it’s actually impossible for us to get our beach pickup onto the beach to get to a patient,” he said Friday. “There are too many people to navigate, so we have to use four-wheelers and side-by-sides,” the latter of which are another type of small, off-road vehicles.
In response, the Destin City Council on Monday plans to consider whether to give initial approval to an ordinance that would establish a 20-foot-wide safety zone from the wet sand landward on beaches in the city.
The zone would provide a clear path for emergency personnel trying to reach people in distress and give a clear site line for lifeguards.
Beachgoers would be prohibited from plunking themselves down or setting up chairs, tents, umbrellas and other equipment in the zone.
City officials said they have discussed the proposed safety zone with Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, Destin Fire Control District officials and beach vendors.
“Anything that we can do in this community to make our beach patrons safer, I’m all for,” D’Agostino said.
The council on Monday also could consider whether to grant initial approval to an ordinance that would ban various non-emergency wheeled vehicles from all public and private beaches in Destin.
In a council agenda report, interim City Manager Lance Johnson and Deputy City Manager Steve Schmidt stated that various wheeled vehicles on the beach are “aesthetically displeasing,” dangerous to beachgoers and harmful to wildlife such as nesting birds and sea turtles.
They also said Destin recently has seen an increase in the number of vehicles being driven on privately-owned beach property.
For example, local officials were notified in early June about three Jeeps that were parked on the beach next to the east jetty. Sheriff’s deputies and a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer who went to the scene determined that the vehicles’ owners were on private property and had not broken any laws.
Shortly after that, local businessman Peter Bos told the Daily News that the vehicles belonged to him and his friends, and that they had parked on beach property that belongs to a company he owns.
While Destin’s land development code bans the use of wheeled vehicles on the beach, it isn’t clear as to whether driving vehicles on private beaches is prohibited.
The proposed ordinance would amend the code “to clearly and unequivocally prohibit the use of (most) wheeled vehicles on all beaches in the Destin city limits, regardless of property ownership status,” according to city officials.
Exempted from the ordinance would be emergency/public safety vehicles, vehicles used by turtle nest monitors, baby strollers and wheelchairs and other equipment for mobility-impaired people.
Violators could be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.
Monday’s meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the City Hall Annex. If the two ordinances get initial approval, the council likely will vote on whether to adopt them at its Sept. 3 meeting.