WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — The Walton County Commission voted Tuesday to reopen their beaches.
The vote was unanimous.
The beaches are open under Gov. Ron DeSantis executive order allowing recreational activities but the Walton County Commissioners also added a few activities.
Those activities include running, walking, swimming, fishing, boating, surfing, and paddleboarding.
Vendors are not allowed to open and all special events both public and private are prohibited.
The commissioners also suspended permits for beach bonfires. No fire permits will be issued while this Local State of Emergency remains in effect.
Beach goers are also instructed to practice social distancing, staying at least 6 feet apart from others. Groups of 10 are also prohibited.
“We’re basing our decisions on the information we have, whether it’s right or wrong we have to go by the information we have. So I’m asking for everybody to have patience. Let’s slowly work our way into this,” said District 5 Commissioner, Tony Anderson.
After the meeting, News 13 caught up with Walton County Sheriff, Michael Adkinson, Jr. to talk enforcement of the guidelines laid out in the ordinance.
One aspect that is somewhat tricky to enforce will be the ‘no sunbathing’ rule. The commissioners prohibited this act, defining it as someone who is laying in the sand on a towel or blanket.
However, the commissioners are allowing individuals to bring their own chairs, tents or umbrellas down to the sand.
“It’s a little bit difficult, right? We’re going to try to do it and be reasonable and do it with customer service and what is the spirit we’re going to try and accomplish here? That’s really what this is about. personal Accountability right but at the same time you have an obligation to the people around you as well and so we want to make sure people are being courteous and I think that’ll get us where we need to be,” said Sheriff Adkinson.
Sheriff Adkinson says they will be making sure, overall, the health guidelines are followed but says, in some cases the social distancing may be unnecessary.
“If a family of 4 come down together and they ride in a car, we’re not going to say hey you have to separate by six feet. Now inevitably someone will call us and say you’re not doing your job because these people are sitting next to each other, they’re not social distancing. They’ll take a picture and sent it to me and say you’re not doing x, y, and z. Context. The context of it is, they rode together.”
The move to open the beaches without time restriction, Adkinson says, may also be in preparation for if Governor DeSantis does not extend the short vacation rental ban. The county could be seeing an influx of visitors if the rentals are opened again and the unrestricted times will allow people to spread out more rather than being piled up at certain times of the day.
“Ultimately that’s the biggest impact on this, from a local standpoint of to open the beach or not open the beach. It’s important to realize, the beaches in it of themselves present no special risk because of COVID. That’s a fact. In fact, you could argue that it’s safer on the beaches. The issue is how it attracts people from hot zones across the country.”
The ordinance will remain in effect for seven days and then Commission Chairman William ‘Bill’ Chapman will be able to extend that ordinance, if he chooses. The extension would reach May 12, which is the next time the commission will meet.
The commission also voted to open county parks and golf courses.