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May 25, 2023

Wildwood bans alcohol on beach, boardwalk — whether it's in open or closed containers

It was one of two ordinances passed during Wednesday's commissioners meeting; the other addresses underage drinking, and both take effect in 20 days

Government Alcohol
wildwood alcohol ban Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Wildwood has banned on alcohol, in open and closed containers, on the city's beaches and boardwalk, except in designated bars and restaurants. They also have classified underage drinking as a breach of peace violation.

Wildwood leaders have voted to prohibit alcohol on the beach and boardwalk ahead of the busy summer season down the shore.

During a Wildwood Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday evening, officials approved two ordinances involving public drinking. The ordinances, introduced earlier this month as updates to municipal laws, ban alcohol on the beach and boardwalk and address underage drinking. They go into effect in 20 days.

The alcohol ban prohibits the consumption, display or possession of any alcoholic beverage on the beach and boardwalk. This applies to all containers, open or closed, except in designated bars and restaurants. Violators could face fines of up to $2,000 and potentially 90 days in jail.

"We made it so that you should have no alcohol at all on the beach, opened, closed, in a bag, doesn't matter ... Every summer brings a different set of issues and everyone wants to know what we're doing about it," Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron told 6ABC.

The alcohol ordinance updates to the current law, which prohibits open containers on the beach and boardwalk, city solicitor Louis DeLollis told the Cape May County Herald earlier this month. The complete ban of alcohol in any container, opened or closed, is intended to eliminate disputes between people and law enforcement about whether a container is open or closed, and signage will be displayed on the boardwalk to notify people of the law change, DeLollis said.

The other ordinance that passed designates underage drinking, alcohol possession and other offenses as "breach of peace" violations. This means the police would have the authority to arrest violators and potentially hold them until they are picked up by parents or legal guardians. 

DeLollis said the ordinances are in response to the juvenile justice reforms New Jersey made in 2020. While the reforms intended to address systemic racial disparities by limiting youth detentions and formal court proceedings, some shore communities believed the reforms hampered police from maintaining order, especially among the flocks of young people down the shore in the summer.

Similar revisions to local laws involving juveniles have passed recently in other shore towns. Ocean City passed a municipal ordinance in January allowing police to detain minors for breach of peace violations like breaking curfew, excessive noise, littering and vandalism. In March, Sea Isle lawmakers enacted a 10 p.m. curfew for minors and restricted the use of backpacks for all people during certain hours of the night.

Back in 2018, Wildwood made national headlines when a viral video showed a 20-year-old Philadelphia woman getting tackled on the beach by a seasonal police officer who suspected she was drinking underage. The woman ultimately pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct charge as part of a deal with prosecutors and no disciplinary action was taken against the officers. The woman filed a civil lawsuit against Wildwood and was awarded $325,000 in a settlement with the city.

More recently, last September an unsanctioned H2Oi car rally in Wildwood resulted in two deaths and several injuries. Earlier this month, an unsanctioned Wildwood beach party was canceled by organizers after the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office issued a warning that it would be shut down by police. Party organizers had advertised an event with “dance battles, twerking contests, beer pong and boxing matches.”

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