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Sunday, Oct 26, 2014
Joe Brown Columns

Is a crackdown on Gandy Beach really necessary?

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I noticed it the first time I crossed over the Gandy Bridge, that mile-long strip of sand just off the south side of Gandy Boulevard on the Pinellas County side. Actually, it was the people and activities there that really caught my attention.

Most noticeable was a huge Confederate flag anchored to the back of a pickup truck parked near the edge of the bay, which was kind of necessary since there’s no parking lot. There were dogs running around freely, women in bikinis, kids wading in the water, and a lot of grilling and drinking of what looked like adult beverages. In other words, good old-fashioned, cheap family fun.

I was told later I had just passed by what is officially known as Gandy Beach. Since then I’ve heard it called Beer Can Beach and the Redneck Riviera. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when a candlelight vigil was held there after NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt was killed during the 2001 Daytona 500.

Since cars are forced to park on the sand, it can’t be a very smooth beach, but that’s probably part of its charm. I also didn’t notice any bathrooms, which means people must do their business in the mangroves or (yuck!) the bay. I guess that’s why I’ve never seen it listed in the many Tampa Bay tour guides that are published for tourists.

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I doubt if I’ll ever go to Gandy Beach, but I was a little upset last month when the Florida Department of Transportation, which oversees the beach, announced it was going to crack down on the activities there. There is beer drinking, dog pooping and drag racing on that narrow strip of sand. Signs have been posted reminding beachgoers those things are prohibited, along with bonfires. Also, no trespassing from dusk until dawn unless you’re fishing.

“We have had numerous issues in this area, including people dumping boats and tires, drag racing, people using ATVs and trashing the beach,” wrote Kris Carson, an FDOT spokeswoman. “We want to still be able to keep this area open as a beach community. That is why we are working with the county and the (Pinellas County) Sheriff’s Office to try and curtail some of these issues.”

That’s all well and good, but my question to FDOT and sheriff’s office is, why now? It reminds me of the classic scene in one of my favorite movies, “Casablanca,” when Rick asks Capt. Renault why he is closing down his cafe.

“I’m shocked, shocked to find gambling going on in here!” says Renault, who soon collects his ill-gotten winnings from the croupier.

That’s why I get a little suspicious when long-ignored laws or rules suddenly become a priority.

Another example is the recent announcement by Florida law enforcement agencies that they would begin a crackdown of drivers who violate the state’s “move over” law, which requires slowing down or moving over a lane when an emergency vehicle or police car is parked along a road. This is the result of the death of a Florida Highway Patrol trooper who lost her life last month while she was parked at the scene of an crash on Interstate 75. An patrol spokesman admitted that it took this tragedy to educate the public, but it should have been enforced all along.

The same thing goes for Gandy Beach. Yes, certain rules should have been followed all along, like no glass bottles, picking up dogs’ messes, and no dumping trash on the beach. That’s just common sense, and common courtesy. But even though alcohol is regularly consumed, I’ve never heard of any rowdy behavior there.

When I passed Gandy Beach the other day it looked like business as usual, but I did spot a Pinellas County deputy sitting in his car. Beachgoers probably are being warned about the new rules.

According to an online Tampa Tribune poll, about 85 percent of respondents believe Gandy Beach should be allowed to function as it has for decades.

I believe a little clean-up wouldn’t hurt, but the situation isn’t broke enough to need a whole lot of fixing.

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