Come spring break, beachgoers might not be able to leave their canopies on the sand overnight, a practice that costs the city money and time to police.
The Galveston Park Board of Trustees and the Galveston City Council are considering drafting an ordinance that would require people to take canopies they use for shelter and shade, along with other personal items, off beaches from sunset to sunrise.
In a two-week period from Aug. 22 to Sept. 2, park board beach maintenance crews picked up and dismantled 25 abandoned canopies, costing about $4,320 in manual labor, hourly wages, equipment mobilization and wildlife monitors, park board spokeswoman Mary Beth Bassett said.
This is a serious problem for crews trying to clean beaches, said Jesse Ojeda, operations manager for park board coastal zone management.
“This is what they’re confronted with almost daily,” Ojeda said. “There’s barely enough room for a crew truck to get through there.”
Sometimes, the park board must also pay for disposed canopies when owners seek their abandoned property, Ojeda said.
He sees this mostly on West End beaches, he said. In addition to canopies, beachgoers sometimes abandon barbecue grills, chairs and coolers, among other items, he said.
Some people leave these items overnight, but some visitors leave cheap canopies in the sand at the end of their vacations, Ojeda said.
The park board discussed a year of public awareness campaigns before enforcing an ordinance prohibiting manmade property on beach from sunset to sunrise.
But in a joint Nov. 15 workshop, city council members expressed interest in seeing something on the books by spring break.
“I’m not really sympathetic or worried about offending anyone who has such disrespect and disregard for our island home or public property,” District 4 Councilman Jason Hardcastle said.
District 6 Councilwoman Jackie Cole agreed that she’d rather see an ordinance implemented before the next tourist season.
“I don’t see any need for a year of soft language,” Cole said. “Let’s get our beaches clean.”
Abandoned canopies, and any abandoned property on the beach, are a danger to wildlife, said Joanie Steinhaus, Gulf program director for the Turtle Island Restoration Network.
“One day, our volunteer counted 253 tents left on the beach,” Steinhaus said. “The amount of stuff every year has increased.”
Steinhaus has seen turtles trapped in chairs, she said.
If a turtle on its way to a nesting area encounters a man-made object, the turtle could get confused, she said.
“They could do what’s called a false crawl,” Steinhaus said. “They could come up, run into it and turn around or go parallel along the beach.”
A few other options the city and park board are considering include a program to remove tagged items that went unclaimed after a few days, corrals at beach access entry points for canopies and a concierge service that sets up and takes down canopies.
The park board researched other coastal communities dealing with abandoned canopy issues, Trustee Victor Viser said.
“We looked at Destin, Florida, we looked at Pensacola, we looked at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and other places,” Viser said. “They’ve really gone to this sort of zero tolerance approach.”
Regardless of the ordinance, education will be key, since owners of abandoned property couldn’t be easily tracked, District 3 Councilman David Collins said.