Dune Hugger: To pee or not to pee?

Special to the PRESS

To pee or not to pee?  That is the question!  My sons often have to deal with this issue as do I and thousands of beach visitors to the City of South Padre Island every year.  My sons’ way of dealing with it?  They just pull down their board shorts wherever they are and just go right where they stand.  Of course they are only three and five years old and it is still semi-acceptable for them to do this.  For adults this becomes a bigger issue and aside from beach trash, public beach parking (which I will get to in more detail in a later column) and sargassum landings, public restrooms may be the biggest issue facing the beaches of South Padre Island and one that I hear plenty about.

The City’s Shoreline Taskforce has wrestled with this issue for years.  We are not lacking in beach access points along Gulf Boulevard with 21 access areas.  It can be argued that we are severely lacking on the southern area of South Padre Island with only two but that, again, is a debate for another day.  Of those 23 total access points, the City has only two access points with official public restrooms.  It is a fact that we do not have enough public beach restroom facilities within the city limits of SPI and was a priority listed from a survey conducted by an intern from UTB with the City.  However, when we, the Shoreline Taskforce or the City Council, attempt to address the issue of providing more restrooms the debate becomes emotional and a little contentious.

The debate starts with property owners along Gulf Boulevard and their desire to not have public restrooms next to their properties.  This is completely understandable.  Gay Dawn Circle was to have an added bathroom facility but was nixed with an offer by an adjacent property owner who did not want the facilities, so they (the property owner) donated the cost for the access improvements with the stipulation that no restrooms be built.  It is countered by the need of the public to have restroom facilities.  If there are no restroom facilities, then you have beach users sneaking off into the dunes and relieving themselves there right in front of those property owners who do not want the public restrooms next to their homes but also do not want their views tarnished by people publicly relieving themselves.  It becomes a circle that feeds anger and frustration between the property owners and the public.  What is evident is the City needs more public beach restrooms.

So how do we accomplish this and reach an acceptable common ground for both parties?  Ideas that have come up in the past are varying.  The obvious solution, if the property owners were not at all considered, is to just build the permanent restrooms in spite of their complaints.  This would just feed the animosity toward the public in my opinion.  The other options include portable facilities.  The first being restrooms and wash areas mounted on a skid located on the beach that could theoretically be removed before storm events.  The positive is that the facilities are located on the beach and not near homeowners.  The negative is in the logistics of getting them off of the beach before a storm surge with tractors and servicing them with heavy equipment not made for the challenges of driving through sand, would add to traffic on the beach and tear up the sand exacerbating wind driven erosion. The second option that has been considered is trailer mounted restrooms that could be brought in to access cul-de-sacs for the heavier times of the season and then removed during the slower times.  The positive is that they are easier to maintain.  The negative is that, for a brief period of time, they would be located near property owners and would take up public parking spots that are a premium along Gulf Boulevard.

The Shoreline Taskforce is wrestling with this issue and would love to hear of any other ideas that you may have.  This is an issue though that needs to be resolved.  With the City considering and possibly adopting a beach user fee program along Gulf Boulevard, they will need to enhance the public services along that stretch to justify the program’s success, reason for existing and continuance and public restrooms are among those services.

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