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Beach parties leave lasting headache

The view from Postcard Inn on the Beach in St. Pete Beach was far from picturesque on the morning after Memorial Day.

Broken Styrofoam coolers, crumpled Heineken cans and empty beer boxes overflowed out of two trash cans into knee-deep piles on the sand. Trails of glass bottles led to nearby wooden lounge chairs, surrounded by more litter.

Alcohol and glass aren't allowed on St. Pete Beach, but city ordinances and Pinellas County sheriff's deputies contracted to enforce the law don't seem to be cramping the party in front of the 196-room inn.

Officials acknowledge there is uncertainty over the dividing line between the beach and private property. That seems to have left the door open for revelers when it comes to enforcement.

"This is every weekend. It's not even just Memorial Day weekend. It's atrocious," said Jason Bleistein, 40, who lives across the street from the hotel. When he takes his young children to the water they know to look out for broken glass.

"There are whiskey bottles, the giant liter bottles and used condoms in the dunes," he added. "The amount of plastic straws is enough to turn your stomach."

Plastic straws are known to choke sea turtles and birds. Miami Beach banned hotels from distributing them two years ago.

The straws and trash floating in the Gulf of Mexico also bothered Lori Corle, who traveled from Elizabethtown, Ky., to stay at the Beachcomber Beach Resort and Hotel next to the Postcard Inn. "We were very disappointed (Memorial Day) because my friend and I were coming here wanting this peace and quiet and not to be in the middle of spring break," Corle said, adding that she smelled marijuana on the beach numerous times. "As far as returning, it's not been my favorite place and it's because of all the craziness."

Representatives at the Postcard Inn did not return several calls seeking comment.

"Someone was patrolling the beach all weekend long," said Kristen Rensel, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

As for the hundreds of empty bottles and cans on the beach Tuesday morning, Rensel said one couldn't be certain the alcohol was consumed on the beach. "Just because there was trash at the edge of the Postcard Inn doesn't mean they weren't drinking at the pool or in their rooms," she said.

The Sheriff's Office has been made aware of the problem and is working with the inn and the city on the issue, Rensel said. She said the deputy who patrols the area, David Mancusi, could not comment while discussions about a solution were still in progress.

In a recent email, Mancusi replied to Bleistein's concerns, saying part of the problem is that deputies aren't sure what areas of the beach they have jurisdiction over.

"The officers should be ticketing people for glass containers and just plain littering," said Julie Fuller, 52, who has lived near the property since 2008. She said she often fills two trash bags on Monday mornings from debris left behind in front of the inn and the Beachcomber.

The Postcard Inn, owned by Starwood Capital Group investment fund, opened in 2009 after a major renovation of an old Travelodge.

Sheriff's Department records show 1,072 calls for service to the inn over the past 12 months, compared to 211 at the neighboring 143-unit Alden Suites Beach Resort. Officials caution that calls for service do not always mean an incident took place at the exact address.

"We have a different model; we don't use our beach as a party scene," said Keith Overton, general manager at the nearby Tradewinds. "I don't fault them for their business model. It's a capitalist-driven market. ... I fear that they don't put the resources behind it for cleanup and management of all of that, and ultimately the beach ends up being dirty and there is no real control over what's going on with the environment."

He said hiring an off duty uniformed officer to patrol the beach in front of the Tradewinds has cut down on problems.

Tony Satterfield, vice president of operations at Alden Suites, said he hasn't noticed the party scene at the Postcard Inn, nor has he heard complaints from his guests.

The day after Memorial Day, there was no trash seen on the beach in front of the Alden, Beachcomber or the Tradewinds, except for one paper plate and a plastic water bottle.

Keeping the beach clean is getting harder, said Steven Hallock, St. Pete Beach Public Services Director. He attributes the increase in litter to a spike in tourism.

Dave Winkler, owner of Captain Dave's Watersports, said the party crowd at the Postcard Inn hasn't hurt his business.

He attracts clients of all ages, and families. "There might be people who booked rooms at the (Postcard Inn) that are not pleased with the amount of local traffic there on the weekends," he said. "If you were 21 or 22 and you booked a room, you'd think it's the best place in the world."

Lara Cerri contributed

Beach parties leave lasting headache 05/28/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 10:29pm]
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