Myrtle Beach hopes to have new lifeguard towers ready for 2022 summer tourist season

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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — On the heels of a historically busy summer tourist season, Myrtle Beach officials have begun working on plans to install a number of new, custom-built lifeguard towers on the city’s beaches in time for the 2022 season.

Parks Director J.C. Blackhurst told the city’s beach advisory committee Wednesday afternoon that there will be 51 locations permitted, though he anticipates only having about 30 towers built.

“Our goal is to have some of them on the beach by 2022,” he said.

He said he hopes to meet with representatives of Lack’s Beach Service and John’s Beach Service in the next couple of weeks to work on the design of the towers. Having one design will allow them to be built quicker, he said. The two beach-service businesses will use the towers, but they will be owned by the city and be portable so they can be quickly moved in the event of severe weather.

City Council will have to approve funding for the towers, which are estimated to cost about $3,000 apiece, and accept bids to build them. They will be roughly 10- feet wide by 10-feet deep and 12-feet tall.

The new towers are being built as the city and the two beach-service companies, which provide critical lifeguard services for the city’s beaches, work toward a new franchise agreement for 2022.

City Manager Johnathan “Fox” Simons said he does not anticipate a problem with building the towers and working on a new contract at the same time. It’s important for all parties to be “rowing in the same direction,’ he said.

“The city has operated in good faith with Nick (Jackson of John’s Beach Service) and Weslyn (Lack-Chickering of Lack’s Beach Service) for years, so I don’t see that as an issue,” he said.

Lack-Chickering agreed the towers are a “fabulous” idea. However, she expressed concerns about how some people might use them. She cited numerous problems on the beach this summer with homeless people and others using drugs.

“Every morning we have to wake them up and tell them they have to leave,” she said. “Our tourists deserve a heck of a lot better than that. It’s just not a good look.”

Meanwhile, representatives of the city’s police and fire departments provided service-call statistics to the committee at Wednesday’s meeting.

Between May 1 and Sept. 8, Myrtle Beach police reported had 5,891 calls for service on the city’s beaches, with a majority of those — 4,343 — “self-initiated” by officers. There were 3,400 total calls for service during the same time period in 2020 and 2,069 in 2019.

After that, fireworks complaints prompted the largest number of calls — 420. That’s significantly less than the 1,164 in 2020 but about double the 224 in 2019.

The police department statistics also showed five drowning deaths in the ocean and three in pools. In addition, one person, a 16-year-old, reportedly drowned in the ocean in June but was never found and is still listed as a missing person.

City police also received 85 missing-persons reports this summer, up from 38 in 2020 and 43 in 2019.

Between Easter and Labor Day, statistics presented to the committee showed Myrtle Beach fire crews responded to 412 calls for service and were involved in 38 rescues.  Twenty of those rescues were between the Withers Swash and 31st Avenue North.

The fire department was also busy handling other situations, including 1,860 ordinance advisement/enforcement situations, 297 medical situations and 131 lost person/child reports.

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