By DOTTY NIST
“This is not going to become a spring break hot spot,” Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson assured residents at a Jan. 29 town hall meeting.
Taking place at Great Southern Cafe in Seaside, this was the second of a series of town hall meetings held by Walton County District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows, with approximately 60 people in attendance. The meeting topic was spring break issues.
Participating along with Adkinson were South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) Executive Director Dawn Moliterno, Walton County Planning and Development Services Director Wayne Dyess, and other county and TDC staff members.
Adkinson told the gathering that law enforcement personnel began to encounter suprisingly-large spring break crowds on the county’s beaches in 2011, some numbering around a thousand or more. Associated with recent spring break seasons have been more problems and a substantial increase in calls to his office for service, Adkinson remarked.
“We are pro-arrest…it gets out,” Adkinson explained. He said his office had made 300 arrests in just six days at one point during spring break.
The phenomenon of spring break in Walton County is not something that has been sought after in the community, in contrast with other areas. The TDC does not market to spring breakers, and the policy of not renting to guests under the age of 25 is widespread among south Walton County rental properties.
“Spring break is not the audience that we are targeting,” Moliterno commented.
She said spring breakers tend to migrate from place to place and sometimes arrange via social media to gather on the beach in large groups. Many of the spring breakers who show up in south Walton County are children of regular visitors to the area and of second-home owners, Moliterno explained. Some are well behaved and some, unfortunately, are not, she observed.
Adkinson said that, in random samples of arrestees during spring break, his personnel found that the majority had been coming to the area all their lives. While at one time it was believed that most of the youths gathering on the county’s beaches were staying in other areas, Adkinson related, there is evidence that many of them are staying in Walton County. He noted that it appears that parents are arranging lodging in Walton County for the spring breakers.
Adkinson said he adjusts his operations during spring break by shifting more resources to the south end of the county and putting personnel on overtime.
Miramar Beach resident Sandra Luchtefeld asked Adkinson to identify what he needed from the county to assist him in dealing with the spring break crowds.
Adkinson identified “a thorough, well-written noise ordinance” and a nuisance abatement ordinance as needs in this regard. Adkinson said he would also love to see county code enforcement “beefed up.”
Meadows said the rental house next to hers sleeps 18 people. “What can be done about the noise?” she asked.
Adkinson called for a measure to hold the owner of a rental house responsible for repeated disturbances. He explained that “generally we get compliance” in these situations—but that the problem is that usually his personnel are dealing with different occupants every week. His advice was a noise ordinance “that addresses a chronic problem.” Adkinson said he had tried unsuccessfully to get county commission support for such a proposal.
Meadows pledged to bring up Adkinson’s suggestion at a county commission meeting.
Luchtefeld advised separating noise and nuisance issues. The county, she asserted, must follow statutes assuring residents of their right to peaceful enjoyment of their property. “I’m getting tired of giving away my property rights to the guy down the street, even if he’s only here for a week,” she complained, adding that it’s never for just a week, because a new renter is always coming in.
Old Seagrove resident Bob Dobes thanked Adkinson for notices he had provided of recent break-ins in the community. He urged for this practice to be expanded into an alert system to be used when the sheriff’s office is aware of problems in a certain community.
Adkinson responded that he did not want to “oversaturate” citizens with warnings. He suggested keeping abreast of incidents in one’s community through the analytical tool CrimeReports.com. Adkinson also urged residents to call his office when they see problems in their community.
Point Washington resident Frank Day suggested a community volunteer network to assist the sheriff’s office and to help make law enforcement more visible. T-shirts to identify volunteers could be a feature of the network, he added.
Adkinson was receptive to the idea, stating, “We love free.”
Moliterno introduced two members of the TDC staff, Code Enforcement Officer Jeff McVay and Chelsea Atkinson, TDC beach ambassador. While Chelsea’s last name is similar to Sheriff Adkinson’s, the two are not related, she noted.
Moliterno told attendees that, as beach ambassador, Chelsea is responsible for talking with beachgoers and handing out material to let people know how they should behave on the beach. When beachgoers fail to follow the rules and Jeff shows up, “he is not so nice,” Moliterno explained. McVay is part of the TDC’s two-member code enforcement team, which works to enforce the county’s beach regulations and assist beachgoers.
McVay disagreed on one point saying, “I’m really nice.” He explained that beachgoers just do not find it nice to be told that they are doing something they should not be doing….
Read the full story in the Feb. 7, 2013 edition of the Herald Breeze.