Tybee Island prepares for Orange Crush

SAVANNAH, GA. | Officials on Tybee Island are expecting the annual beach party known as Orange Crush to take place Saturday.

Last year, about 7,500 people showed up for the gathering, so authorities will take some precautionary measures, said Mayor Jason Buelterman.

With its large turnout and party atmosphere, Orange Crush has in the past resulted in arrests and litter complaints. The event is called together via word of mouth and social media, and it’s not the type of official event that rents the pier.

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Residents often complain, but Tybee’s a public beach and everyone has a right to be there.

The actions of authorities in past years have drawn criticism when police put up road blocks going to the beach on the day of the party, which is typically attended by a majority African-American crowd. That practice stopped several years ago and was under different leadership.

This year, as a precaution, Tybee Island Police Chief Bob Bryson invited the federal Justice Department’s Community Relations Service to the city to make sure practices during Orange Crush are appropriate. Buelterman said Justice Department staff will be on hand Saturday.

Long ago, the event was sponsored by Savannah State University, but that hasn’t been the case for more than 20 years. Still, some people lump the university’s name with the event in a negative manner, even though its students have routinely volunteered to clean the beach afterward in recent years, and police say most partygoers come from out of town.

Police say they’re expecting the heaviest crowds mid-afternoon and suggest checking online cameras often for traffic delays. Such cameras can be viewed at savannahnow.com.

Like last year, one lane of U.S. 80/Butler Avenue in each direction will be closed from Jones Avenue to Tybrisa Street to ensure emergency vehicles can make it on and off the island without being hindered.

Also, other local law enforcement agencies will provide assistance to Tybee Island police, who have reported issues with partying getting out of hand during previous events. The mayor said he felt the heightened law enforcement presence was necessary to ensure the safety of visitors and residents during a party atmosphere.

Volunteers and city staff will be out and about Saturday evening to make sure the beach stays clean, Buelterman said.

“It just would be very helpful for us if anybody who comes out to the beach, whether it’s for this or any other day for that matter, to be aware that we care a whole lot about the appearance of our island and the natural environment,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can to make sure our littering ordinances are enforced to the best of our ability.

“We ask that people leave only their footprints. That’s our motto.”