By Cindy Jackson
May 7 . 2020
The Board of County Commissioners met on Wednesday, May 6th, 2020, with the expressed purpose of approving a resolution extending the State of Emergency for Nassau County. Such a resolution must be passed each week.
And while perhaps awkwardly timed, the Board also unanimously approved a resolution proclaiming the week of May 3 – May 9, 2020, as National Travel and Tourism Week. That resolution included a few impressive statistics:
• Nassau County is nearly twice as dependent on tourism as [is] the state of Florida;
• a robust travel industry has provided significant economic benefits for Nassau County,
generating more than $850 million [of] economic impact, with $528 million spent directly by overnight visitors; and
• travel is the foundation of a healthy workforce, serving as the largest private- sector employer in Nassau County, supporting one in four jobs of the total county employment in 2019.
Amy Boek, Chief Marketing Officer, with The Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau (AICVB), was there to accept the resolution and while at the podium, made mention the “Tourism Gives” initiative designed to provide support for displaced tourism employees which has been devastated by the ongoing pandemic. As explained on the AICVB website, “The initiative grew from efforts to provide the most meaningful assistance possible to local employees and businesses directly impacted by the dramatic drop in travel. Through the Amelia Island Tourism Gives initiative, $50,000 will go to Barnabas Center of Nassau County, a highly regarded, non-profit, multi-service agency providing food, housing and utility assistance, and medical care to those in crisis.”
In addition, Ms. Boek spoke of the launch of AmeliaIslandMarket.com created to help small businesses without e-commerce capabilities, an opportunity to do so. AmeliaIslandMarket.com allows shoppers to purchase their favorite island-themed merchandise and gift cards from local businesses currently closed due to the COVID-19 situation. Said Boek, “In the first two weeks, we’ve got over $5,000 in revenue that has come in and gone back out to our local businesses.”
When discussion of the County’s beaches began, all reports were good with residents and visitors practicing proper social distancing recommendations. Commercial activities are still not allowed on County beaches and such activities are not expected to commence for at least a couple of weeks.
Beach riding has been of special interest with three vendors interested in resuming business. One concern is the amount of space horse trailers take (about seven spaces). Debbie Manser, of Cheers Horse Ranch, explained to the Commissioners that she is off the beach and out of the parking lot during prime beach going times. She will coordinate communications with the other vendors and County Manager Michael Mullin indicated a plan would be brought before the Commissioners next week.
When asked when Commissioners might be allowed back in the “Board Room,” Mullin referenced recommendations made by Governor DeSantis indicating that for now, under Phase I of his plan, “regular” meetings remain suspended. However, when Phase II, is activated, the BOCC will be able to resume sessions “live and in-person.” That date has not yet been determined.
While Commissioners may have a quorum, attendance at the meetings will be restricted still. Commission Chambers have a capacity of 120, which has been reduced, of late, to just 35 to allow for the proper social distancing. During Phase II, that capacity will be increased but will allow for just 50 individuals.
County Manager Mullin noted that this increased capacity still provides challenges, noting that there’s “a lot of back-up,” and that quasi-judicial and legislative hearings will no doubt be lengthy. Work is underway to figure out the best way to conduct these hearings while providing members of the public the opportunity to have their voices heard. One such issue is a proposed beach ordinance which is not expected to be on the agenda until late in June.
In other items of news and official information, Dr. Eugenia Ngo-Seidel, Director for the Florida Department of Health Nassau County, reported that case counts remain low in Nassau County and that walk-up testing sites, scheduled for Hilliard and Callahan on May 7th, will help to meet the ultimate goal of testing 2% of the county’s population per month. The ultimate goal is to perform about 55 tests per day. Currently the average number of tests performed daily is about 41.
Emergency Operations Director Greg Foster noted that his department is holding two Recovery Information Fairs this week at the Callahan Fairgrounds and Yulee Middle School to provide residents with answers to questions regarding Phase 1 of the recovery process.
The next meeting of the BOCC is scheduled for Monday, May 11th at 6PM.