By Cindy Jackson
April 22, 2020
The City of Fernandina Beach voted last night to keep beaches closed.
This morning, by a unanimous vote of 5-0, County Commissioners gave approval to a plan that would re-open County-controlled beaches, with restrictions on May 6th. Stretches of beach from Peters Point down to the Southend Walkover at 8014 First Coast Highway (including Burney Park and the Scott Road access area), are recognized as beach front parks under the purview of the County.
County Manager/County Attorney Mike Mullin outlined the restrictions which will be in place when the beaches re-open on May 6th. Those restrictions will include:
• Modified hours of operation will be from 6am until 12 noon at Peters Point and Burney Road. Scott Road and Southend Walkover parking lots will remain closed
• Walking, running, fishing and physical activity will be allowed
• No sunbathing or items that create a stationary presence will be allowed – i.e. no blankets, no coolers, no chairs, no tents or umbrellas
• No parking or driving on the beaches will be allowed
• No horses will be allowed
• No commercial activity will be allowed
• No group activities will be allowed
• No RVs or campers will be allowed in parking lots
• CDC (Center for Disease Control) guidelines for social distancing must be followed
Before listing the prohibitions, Mullin noted that while there are many things the County can do, there are other things that it simply cannot do. For instance, while the number of people on the beach can be somewhat controlled by the capacity at beach parking areas, the County cannot restrict beach access to county residents only.
It was expressed that the County hopes that the City of Fernandina Beach will open their beaches in coordination with the County. Law enforcement and emergency operations management have been involved in the development of this plan. Greg Foster, Director of Emergency Management, noted that Brevard County has had similar limitations in place (restricted hours and activities) and it has worked well.
For now, and the foreseeable future, the beach areas at Fort Clinch and on the South End of the Island will remain closed as they are part of the State Park System.
The subject of mental health came up numerous times during the discussion. Commissioner Thomas Ford stated that “folks are getting pretty restless,” and Commissioner Justin Taylor noted that domestic violence calls are up. Commission Chair Daniel Leeper pronounced that “this is an effort to put some normalcy back into the lives of our residents.”