By Cindy Jackson
April 29, 2020
The Board of County Commissioners convened at 6PM and it took just 17 minutes for them to begin the discussion of County beaches.
That meeting had been postponed twice as they awaited to hear from Governor DeSantis about his plans for re-opening the State.
County Manager/County Attorney Michael Mullin began by reading excerpts from the deluge of emails received. At this meeting, it appeared emails received were overwhelmingly in favor of opening the beaches. A significant contingency of horse-riders also wrote in to express their opinions in favor of opening the beaches to commercial activities like those of the equestrian variety. Several non-residents of Nassau County also wrote/called in to have their comments inserted as part of the official record.
Mullin talked of numerous consultations and communications between Nassau County officials and authorities in Fernandina Beach including the City Manager.
At the end of the day, Mullin will be signing an executive order to re-open Nassau County beaches on Friday, May 1st, 2020 within these guidelines:
• no parking on the beach
• no driving on the beach except for official vehicles (such as those involved in turtle patrol)
• hours of operation are 6am – 9pm
• parking areas will be open from 6am – 9pm
• all individuals allowed on the beach subject to adhering to CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines – most importantly, those involving social distancing
• no horses or horse trailers
• nothing larger than a pick-up truck in parking lots
• violations will be subject to a $500 fine and jail time
All commissioners were in agreement with the plan outlined.
Nassau County Health Department official Dr. Eugenia Ngo-Seidel, director of the Florida Department of Health in Nassau County reported on the latest numbers for the County:
• 56 total cases in Nassau County
• a 4% rate of positivity of the over 1400 tests administered
• hospitals have never exceeded capacity nor have they had to go into crisis mode
Greg Foster, Director of Emergency Operations, concurred with recommendations.
Mullin then noted that while other beach communities (like St. John’s County, for instance) have restricted activities — like sitting or sunbathing — he believes such restrictions create more issues vis a vis legal and enforcement challenges.
Commission Chair Daniel Leeper said he believes the County’s decision to open on Friday, May 1 will help mediate crowds when the City opens its beaches on May 4th. He also went on to say he hopes to open County beaches to commercial activities as soon as possible – activities like horseback riding. It was Commissioner Thomas Ford who raised that concern.
The BOCC voted unanimously to open beaches on Friday, May 1, 2020.