Lumina News file photo
Wrightsville Beach police, right, staff the Wilmington Family YMCA Triathlon and other events that require traffic control on the island.
With the growing popularity of Wrightsville Beach’s major offseason events — the North Carolina Holiday Flotilla, PPD Beach2Battleship Iron Distance Triathlon, YMCA Triathlon and Quintiles Wrightsville Beach Marathon — town officials are increasingly faced with the task of balancing inconveniences to residents and the interests of the beach’s businesses that benefit from those events.
Wrightsville Beach Mayor David Cignotti said he hopes to continue to work with the event organizations to cultivate the four major events.
“Events of this size, we certainly can’t have every month, but the ones we have now are great events and we need to work to make those the best events we can and make sure they run as smooth as possible,” Cignotti said. “We certainly don’t want them to become huge inconveniences for our citizens and all involved, but there are only four of them.”
While traffic concerns during those and other smaller events have been exacerbated by the double lane closure on the Heide Trask Drawbridge, Mayor Pro Tem Susan Collins said it would be up to the aldermen to decide how to address the probable growth of the events past the bridgework hindrance.
“For large events, residents do complain. It is a normal complaint; the traffic is an inconvenience for residents,” Collins said. “As aldermen we have to weigh the inconvenience with the traffic with the interests of the businesses that enjoy the new visitors coming to enjoy the beach.”
Although traffic is a major concern for the town, Cignotti said the type of events that are drawing the most amount of visitors to the island are the kind worth preserving.
“They all occur in the shoulder season so they are all definitely a boost to our merchants in the slower season,” he said. “I think they are very healthy outdoor family events that are a positive for our town.”
Cignotti alluded to the YMCA Triathlon as an example of a major event that has managed to minimize its impact on the town’s traffic by requiring participants to be shuttled onto the island.
Whatever decisions the town makes regarding traffic patterns, the Wrightsville Beach Police Department has to enforce. While this requires more officers to be on duty during these events, Chief Dan House said it currently does not put a strain on the department or the town.
“It doesn’t have an impact on us either financially or manpower wise because most of those people that are coming into work are coming in on a day off and they are getting contract paid so it doesn’t come out of our budget,” House said. “These are more or less people that are volunteering to come in and make a little extra money and not at the town’s expense.”
However, echoing Cignotti’s concerns about adding major events, House said hosting major events every month would start to become a nuisance for the WBPD.
“More is always an issue,” he said. “If police officers are having to come in every month or a couple times a month on their days off because of special events, it is to a point where it is, ‘Hey, now I’m getting tired of coming in on my days off.’”
Developing efficient traffic plans will be crucial to the survival of these events, House said, adding that there have already been improvements this year in spite of the bridgework.
“The flotilla was a great example of everyone coming together to make a great plan that almost worked flawlessly,” he said. “It was almost scary how well it worked.”
Traffic plans for the next major event in town, the Quintiles Wrightsville Beach Marathon, are now in development with town and event officials. A discussion of how to handle the race that brought 2,600 participants to the beach in March of 2012 is scheduled for the board of aldermen’s Dec. 13 regular meeting.