After a string of incidents on the iconic Palm Tree Island that culminated with a wild July 4th celebration, two dozen residents told the Wrightsville Beach Police Chief that they were fed up with the growing party scene on the tidal island that sits only yards away from a pair of Wrightsville Beach neighborhoods.
While Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said that the town did not have enforcement jurisdiction, instead asserting that it was with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, residents relayed they were getting mixed signals about which agency was able to enforce alcohol, noise and other ordinances on the strip of land that attracts large numbers of boaters when exposed by the tide.
During the quarterly “Chat with the Chief” on Tuesday, residents of Channel Walk, Lees Cut and Shoreline neighborhoods said the drinking, debauchery, profane music, trespassing and public drunkenness was becoming a dangerous nuisance that was serving as a “black eye” on the town.
As residents said that the island that is uncovered at low tide has become busier in general on weekends, they said the party that developed during the recent Independence Day celebration was especially out of control. They told House that trespassing was a continuous problem, with throngs of college-aged young adults arriving in taxis and Ubers at the neighborhoods, swimming the short span to the island with coolers of alcohol, only to return a few hours later drunk. One person was said to have passed out in the neighborhood.
Residents also reported injuries and confrontations. One person suffered a serious injury after cutting themselves on oyster shells, while another was dangerously cut by a boat propeller. And some of the residents said they were nervous about confronting the drunken trespassers for fear of a hostile or violent reprisal. Residents said there have been other violent incidents involving the island, including a fight last Labor Day.
The residents said there was a limited presence from the sheriff’s office and town police, which they asserted mostly observed the action without making arrests or issuing citation. Sheriff’s office spokesman Lt. Jerry Brewer said that there was one contract sheriff’s officer at the apartment complex, paid for by the management.
House told the group at the meeting that he had spoken with New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon about the problem and would try to organize a meeting between residents, the sheriff and Wrightsville Beach police.
Brewer said that deputies did respond to the incident where the man was cut by a boat propeller. The injured person was transported over to the boat ramp, where a bystander fashioned a rope tourniquet before deputies arrived and applied another tourniquet. The man was transported to New Hanover County Regional Medical Center.
Brewer said that sheriff’s deputies have responded to noise complaints from Palm Tree Island in the past. However, since the noise was coming from boats, most visitors have simply faced the other direction, Brewer said, reducing the instances of noise complaints.