Lifeguards could be posted on the beach at Hunting Island State Park as soon as this summer, state Sen. Tom Davis said Thursday night.
The Beaufort Republican, among the 13 state and federal lawmakers who represent Beaufort County in Columbia and Washington, said the next step in the process is to meet with S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department director Duane Parrish.
Davis and state Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, were among the legislators who gathered Thursday in Beaufort in County Council chambers to consider the lifeguard proposal put together by Hilton Head Island attorney Robert Patterson and Robb Wells of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Erickson said she has already discussed the proposal once with Parrish, who she said was open to the idea. She hopes to arrange a meeting between Parrish and Patterson to review the proposal in Columbia next week.
Six people have drowned in the past four years at the park, Patterson said.
He and Ralph Wagner, director of Shore Beach Service, which contracts with the Town of Hilton Head Island to provide lifeguards there, estimate it would cost $136,000 to post nine lifeguards and a supervisor at the park this year.
About $41,000 of that would go to startup costs such as equipment and a vehicle, Patterson said. The remaining amount would pay the lifeguards and their boss.
Lifeguards would be on duty from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day and be posted at two or three popular areas along the beach.
With that level of detail, Davis said he’s confident the idea will succeed.
“I suspect we’re going to have success with Mr. Parrish in short order and have this ready for the 2014 season,” Davis said.
Patterson, whose family has had at least one cabin on Hunting Island for 30 years, is leading a group of concerned residents who took up the issue after three swimmers drowned near the beach in July.
According to county records, the park brings in more than 1 million visitors each year and earned more than $3 million last year.
Hunting Island has not had lifeguards since 1998, but the state budget line item was left in the spending plan until 2003.
Previous park managers have said the program ended mainly because it was difficult to find employees.
“You’ve got a known problem; you’ve got this money you can easily pay for it,” Patterson said. “Why isn’t the park doing this?”