By Dale Martin
May 1, 2020
“Beach bathrooms will not be open (for sanitary and hygienic reasons). Reconstruction of the boardwalk at Seaside Park (Sadler Road) will restrict access to a portion of that beach area and parking lot. The City Golf Course will also re-open Monday morning with several protocols in place to enhance safety. Other City recreational facilities will remain closed for now.”
The responses to the Covid-19 virus continue to be wide-ranging and diverse. If interested, it is very easy to find a medical or health professional articulating the danger of the virus and another professional shrugging it off. Many medical experts argue that it is not a black or white issue, but grey; the problem and how to respond, however, is that the black and white portions of this spectrum are not much wider than a human hair. It is an incredibly challenging and frustrating environment, driven by the goal to ensure public health, safety, and welfare.
The City Commissioners, as a body, have accepted the responsibility of ensuring the public health, safety, and welfare of the residents of Fernandina Beach. They are supposed to represent and act upon the best interests of the entire community, not individuals or limited segments. This burden is overlooked by some who direct comments to the Commissioners arguing “to do as I say because you are supposed to represent me!”
I believe that the City Commissioners have accepted this responsibility and acted in the full best interests of the community, especially during this public health crisis. An example of their community leadership has been illustrated by their review, understanding, and actions related to City beaches.
In fact, the City Commission did not limit access to the beaches- the City Commission never formally considered nor voted on closing the beaches. It was under the authority granted to me under the current State of Emergency and related state laws that I restricted access to the City beaches on March 21. It was only after extensive deliberate conversations with and the support of all five Commissioners, however, that I implemented the restrictions. As a result, no formal action by the City Commission is necessary to rescind the restrictions (although the City Commission is not precluded from formally acting on this, or any other issue, during the State of Emergency).
The Commissioners have received hundreds of messages related to the beach closures. The messages have been diverse: open the beaches, keep them closed, allow only walkers, give “my” group special privileges, keep the Georgia (New York, New Jersey, name the area outside of Nassau County) people away. Most have been polite and articulate, others have been less polite. The beach restrictions issue is not much different than dozens of issues that have previously been presented to the City Commission and articulated strongly by proponents and opponents.
Following the closure of the beaches, Commissioner Ross offered four conditions during regional meetings for consideration to lift the beach restrictions: Governor DeSantis would re-open the State Parks on Amelia Island (and their beaches), the Governor’s Executive Orders recommending senior citizens stay home and closing restaurants be lifted, and a declaration from the County Health Director that it was safe to open the beaches. Although media reports indicated continuing support for those conditions in an effort to coordinate beach re-openings (the beaches on Amelia Island fall under the jurisdiction of three entities: the State, the County, and the City), the desired coordination is somewhat fractured, but the beaches under County and City jurisdiction will be re-opened over the course of the next few days.
County officials have announced that County beaches will open on Friday, May 1. Please review the Nassau County web site and related press releases for restrictions to be in effect when those beaches are opened.
City beaches will re-open at 6:00 AM, Monday, May 4. Beach access will not be limited to specific hours, nor will beach activities be restricted. Ocean Rescue personnel will be deployed at that time. If beach visitors want to sit on the beach at 3:00 PM, much as many are doing now in several other locations throughout the City, then I believe the beach should be no different. Walk, sit, run, swim, surf, fish as you wish. All parking, with the exception of on-beach parking at Sadler Road, will be open and available.
The key issue will again be adherence to the social distancing and public gathering guidelines offered by the Centers for Disease Control. It was the failure to maintain appropriate separation and growing numbers of gatherings that led to the original beach closure. The compliance of Fernandina Beach residents with those guidelines have had an impact of limiting virus occurrence within the City. PLEASE CONTINUE TO MAINTAIN SEPARATION DURING BEACH (AND ALL OTHER) ACTIVITIES: the State and local emergency declarations remain in effect if new action is necessary. Do not gather in groups, even if family, to avoid drawing unwarranted attention.
A few final notes regarding the scheduled Monday re-opening. Beach bathrooms will not be open (for sanitary and hygienic reasons). Reconstruction of the boardwalk at Seaside Park (Sadler Road) will restrict access to a portion of that beach area and parking lot. The City Golf Course will also re-open Monday morning with several protocols in place to enhance safety. Other City recreational facilities will remain closed for now.
Thank you for your continuing cooperation. Enjoy the beach and golf course- safely.