The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners packed a lot into an hour-long, videoconference meeting Wednesday, including opening up more room to park on the county’s beaches. The board is currently meeting this way to comply with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order to local governing bodies to meet at a distance due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
First up at the meeting was Dr. Eugenia Ngo-Seidel, the head of the county health department. Ngo-Seidel told the BOCC that two more positive COVID-19 tests were added to the official county case count by the Florida Department of Health, bringing the total to 72. The two victims are not residents of the county. Ngo-Seidel said that, as of Wednesday morning, 3,460 tests had been performed and the case positivity rate for Nassau County is 2%.
She also pointed out new information on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard listing the number of cases in both patients and staff in long-term care facilities. There are 12 such cases in the county so far, and, according to Ngo-Seidel, this is the only local “clustering” of cases. She added she hopes to schedule more community testing for the county. Ngo-Seidel also said that, as of last Friday, 54 of the people who tested positive in Nassau County have “recovered.”
Nassau County Emergency Management Director Greg Foster said he is working on moving excess personal protective equipment into storage around the county in preparation for the possibility of evacuations and public shelters being open during the hurricane season.
After a member of the public rose to ask questions about what constitutes a landscape buffer and how the impact of new development is paid for, a consent agenda item for the final plat for Amelia Concourse Phase III, Unit A – which divides 30.11 acres into 31 quarter-acre single family lots and five tracts off Amelia Concourse – was continued until next Wednesday, June 3.
The BOCC voted unanimously to approve two other final plats for Amelia Concourse’s Phase III Unit B, dividing 26.32 acres, and Unit C, dividing 21.16 acres. DFC Amelia Island Concourse Phase III LLC is the owner and McCranie and Associates are the agents.
That same vote on consent agenda items approved the county’s state of emergency for another week; approved a resolution sending a letter to DeSantis asking for the state to distribute to local governments $1.275 billion it received in CARES Act funds; and approved the final plat for Dixon Park, a new subdivision consisting of 11 lots ranging from five to 11 acres located on either side of River Road, four miles west of
Speaking about the letter to the governor, County Manager and Attorney Mike Mullin explained the CARES Act says the state governments that received federal money may distribute those funds to local governments.
Mullin also explained that St. Johns County has been able to offer assistance to the small businesses there because the county has a “lucrative” Community Development Block Grant as a funding mechanism. “It’s not tax money,” Mullin said, “You do not have a CDBG program.” Turning to how Duval County has been able to offer help to its small businesses, Mullin reminded the board that the CARES Act sent money to counties with more than 500,000 residents. Nassau County has an estimated 88,000 residents. He told the commissioners that they could use some of their $8 million in reserves, but that one hurricane could cost the county $8 million.
BOCC Chairman Danny Leeper encouraged small businesses and concerned residents to reach out to the county’s state and federal delegations and ask them for their support getting the state to release the CARES Act money to local governments.
Referring to the reopened county beaches, Mullin said that when people look at county beaches, “You will see gatherings of more than 10 people, and you will see all of that activity taking place. No one would expect the sheriff’s department to start having people go down there and start separating people, because we don’t know if they are families – you don’t know whether they are families and distant families, brother-in-laws – whoever it is down there. And the sheriff’s office, which does a magnificent job, is there to protect public safety and make sure the rules are followed, but they can’t start separating people.”
Under DeSantis’ Executive Order No. 20-131, issued May 22, organized youth sports are now allowed to continue. Mullin told the board that some counties are looking at easing restrictions on youth sports leagues using their facilities, saying, “Let the parents be responsible.” Mullins said, in his opinion, organized youth sports should be allowed to restart.
However, Mullin added he also received an email over concerns that volunteer coaches and organizers don’t have training on enforcing CDC guidelines, and Commissioner Pat Edwards mentioned the potential for liability. A special meeting of the county’s Recreation Commission was scheduled for Thursday night to discuss the youth sports issue.
A discussion about the board’s unanimous approval of Mullin’s Executive Order No. 11 revealed that Mullin had changed Executive Order No. 10 on Saturday to require just six hours between guests at vacation rentals, instead of 18 hours, to facilitate additional cleaning of rooms during the pandemic. “Several people thought it was incorrect,” Mullin said, and his staff came in on the weekend to make the change. Commissioner Aaron Bell abstained on the otherwise unanimous vote because he owns a vacation rental.
Mullin also discussed Amelia Island State Park and its temporary restriction of on-beach parking. He said the state park ranger told him the state park was waiting for the county to say that a section of county beach between the state park and a northern boundary was now also open for on-beach parking. The county area is a very popular spot to drive to for fishing, but the entrance is via the state park. Mullin said a new sign at that section of the beach says only Nassau County residents can park there, which is the current restriction at Peters Point Beach Park and American Beach as well. The county also allows active duty members of the military with a valid ID to park on the beach. The resolution to approve opening that section of the beach was also unanimously approved.
After discussing how his executive orders reopening the beaches with restrictions have not pleased everyone, Mullin said Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew has agreed to produce ID cards for non-resident property owners so they too can park on certain areas of the county’s beaches while the current restrictions are in place. Mullin did not say when that ID production will start or provide any other details.
In new business, the board unanimously voted to authorize Leeper to sign forms related to the 2019 Edward Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program and approve Leeper’s signing of an amendment to the county’s contract with Florida Government Utility Authority for management of the Nassau Amelia Utility Water and Wastewater System from July through Aug. 30.