After approving a consent agenda that included extending the county’s state of emergency for another week, the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to lift the county’s temporary on-beach parking ban at 8 a.m. today, but with several important restrictions.
Only Nassau County residents and active duty military members will be allowed to park on the county-run beaches until further notice. The executive order issued by the county says, “Proof of Nassau County residence shall require a valid Florida Driver’s License by the driver or State of Florida identification card by an occupant of the vehicle, indicating a current Nassau County residence.” An attendant will check the licenses, identifications cards and military IDs.
The board received a detailed briefing from County Manager and Attorney Mike Mullin and Assistant County Manager Taco Pope about the plans.
Saying that the county could begin printing a type of beach-access ID card within a few weeks, Mullin said at this time the county “doesn’t have the manpower to examine deeds” for people who don’t have a license or ID to prove their residency.
The county’s plan is for employees from the county’s Maintenance and Road & Bridge departments to be on-hand to help process the on-beach traffic until a contract with a private security firm can be finalized. The county moved forward Monday with selecting a firm to do that.
Mullin said he’s been asked why Nassau County Sheriff’s Office deputies can’t just patrol the beaches. He said the matter had been reviewed with Sheriff Bill Leeper, adding, “It was determined to be impossible.”
On-beach parking at Scott Road will remain closed for now, but the parking lot and pedestrian access will stay open. Specific areas on the beach at Peters Point and American Beach will be blocked off for pedestrians only.
Commercial activities are allowed to resume on the beaches, including horse riding from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. daily. The horses are not allowed in the dunes or in the water, and they have to wear manure catch bags. Three spaces for horse trailers have been marked off in the grassy area on the west side of the Peters Point parking lot.
Though parking in all of the county’s beach access lots will be allowed from 6 a.m., on-beach parking of vehicles at Peters Point and American Beach will not be allowed until after 8 a.m. A prohibition on using the county beaches between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. will remain in place for the time being.
The point was emphasized several times that the restrictions are temporary during the current state of emergency and the primary goal of the county’s actions is to keep people safe. “There is no permanent aspect to this,” Mullin said.
Mullin began the discussion on the beach restrictions by briefly reviewing how the county got from the days of no restrictions to Senate Bill 1577 and a subsequent court order in effect since 1992 permitting on-beach parking only in specific areas of Nassau County.
Mullin said the federal Endangered Species Act also governs Amelia Island beaches as far as protecting several kinds of nesting turtles and “a bird, that is soon to be placed, we are told, on the endangered species list.” He said the federal law has to be considered whether the county is in an emergency mode or not. He also mentioned the county’s beach advisory committee, which Mullin said met for 14 months and heard from 1,500 to 1,800 people.
Mullin said he was optimistic that the public hearings on permanent changes to the county’s beach ordinance would be heard in June, because the county is still trying to work out how to accommodate an expected large number of citizens who would like to attend in person.
After reading emails from people concerned about the current emergency restrictions on driving to park on the beach and the nighttime closure, Mullin emphasized again that the current restrictions are not permanent. “I can’t say it enough, these are emergency orders,” he said.
He also said he had received countless comments on enforcement.
After Chairman Danny Leeper stopped the meeting briefly to accommodate a report about current COVID-19 cases and testing from Florida Department of Health – Nassau County Director Dr. Eugenia Ngo-Seidel and a status report from Emergency Management Director Greg Foster, Mullin turned to Pope, who narrated a slide presentation of the proposed on-beach parking access diagrams.
Pope first showed how on-beach parking would be reinstituted at Peters Point Beach Park. A large, no parking area will be blocked off right in front of the pedestrian walkovers. There will be a marked traffic lane in the sand for all-wheel and four-wheel drive vehicles to safely get past that area. The plans for American Beach were next, showing an area in front of Burney Park that would also be reserved for pedestrians only. Pope also reviewed the cost of providing county employees to temporarily staff the beach access points, which Office of Management & Budget Director Megan Diehl said was both more expensive and not 24 hours a day like a private contractor might be. Pope emphasized that the county employees would be performing these new duties instead of their normal work assignments.
The board voted unanimously to approve Executive Order No. 7, providing a plan to lift the county’s temporary on-beach parking ban at 8 a.m. today, including the restrictions discussed.
At the end of the meeting, Commissioner Pat Edwards said he would “impress upon each one of our constituents not to rely on Facebook or other
social media events to come up with (the) reason we are doing things, and instead call Sabrina Robertson in the county manager’s office for a straight shot at the truth.”