By Paul Gable
Discussions on the May Bike Rallies by Horry County officials will begin Thursday February 23rd at a special meeting of the county’s Public Safety Committee. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. at the Horry County Government and Justice Center on 3rd Avenue in Conway.
Called by committee chairman Brent Schulz, the only item on the meeting agenda is Biker Rally 2012. When he announced the special meeting during the regular council meeting of February 7th, Schulz said the committee would be prepared to stay the whole night for discussion and requested all interested members of the public to attend the meeting.
In addition to public safety enforcement, the only issue the county has direct control over is the number and duration of vendor and special event permits the county issues for the Harley Davidson and Atlantic Beach rallies.
A spirited discussion at last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting of Horry County Council showed council to be divided on the issue. Chairman Tom Rice wants to do away with vendor permits completely. Council member Bob Grabowski said the number and duration of vendor permits should remain what they have been in recent years.
Council member Carl Schwartzkopf said bikers don’t follow the vendors. “Whether vendors are here or not, the bikers will shop up anyway,” he said.
Council member Paul Price, whose District 5 centered on Surfside Beach, said his district was heavily impacted during the Harley rally because of the small area in which most of the vendors on the South end are concentrated. He called for the rally to be shortened to a weekend event.
“Cut the rally to a three day event and leave the vendor permits in place,” Price said.
Rice read a resolution from the City of Myrtle Beach requesting the county to limit vendor permits to three days duration. After the meeting, Rice admitted he had requested the resolution from the city.
Myrtle Beach no longer issues vendor or special event permits in the month of May in an effort to limit the number of bikers that attend the rallies. Rice was the spokesman for a group of Myrtle Beach citizens who called, several years ago, for the ending of the May bike rallies.
Council member Al Allen said law enforcement, not reducing the duration of days for vendor permits, is the key to keeping the rallies under control. Allen asked county staff how many vendor permits were issued for the Memorial Day Atlantic Beach Bikefest. County staff replied zero vendor permits were issued by the county for the Memorial Day rally.
“So, Memorial Day has no vendor permits issued, but the bikers still come,” said Allen. “We need to address the noise, traffic and law violators. As long as the law is enforced equally, that will be the answer.”
Rice promised there would be an agenda item regarding the bike rallies at the regular meeting of council February 28th. He said he didn’t know exactly the form of the agenda item at this time.
Expect an item calling for the limiting of vendor permits to five days. That seems to be the consensus among council attendees at a private meeting earlier today (not a quorum, but close). Whether that is the answer to reduced traffic and noise, the main complaints of citizens during the rallies, remains to be seen.