Manatee County beaches remain open

Manatee County beaches remain open
Manatee County does not plan to close the public beaches. - File Photo | Joe Hendricks | Sun

ANNA MARIA ISLAND – As of this evening, there were no plans to close Manatee County’s public beaches on Anna Maria Island.

Sarasota County beaches also remain open as of tonight.

This afternoon, the city of Tampa announced its public beaches were closing tonight at sunset. This evening, the city of Clearwater announced it was closing its public beaches on Monday, March 23.

On Anna Maria Island, Manatee County’s public beaches are the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach and Coquina Beach and Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach. The county also maintains Bayfront Park, which is owned by the city of Anna Maria.

There are also numerous public beach access points along the Gulf of Mexico coastline, many of which are located at city street ends in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach.

Manatee County’s position on keeping the beaches open was first expressed by County Administrator Cheri Coryea on Monday, March 16, in an email she sent to city and town officials in Manatee County. Coryea also stated the beaches would remain open during the County Commission’s emergency meeting later that afternoon.

Today, the status of the county beaches was discussed by county and city officials during the weekly Emergency Policy Group meeting chaired by Manatee County Public Safety Director Jacob Saur.

After today’s meeting, Coryea distributed a written recap of the meeting. According to Coryea’s recap, Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth suggested reducing the Manatee Public Beach parking lot to 50 percent capacity – an action that was not taken.

“Holmes Beach Mayor said that today was much better at the beach. All other municipalities agreed,” Coryea’s email recap said.

According to Coryea, an Amber Alert was issued to cell phone users clarifying the social distancing policies included in Governor’s Ron DeSantis’ Tuesday, March 17 Executive Order.

“I direct parties accessing public beaches in the State of Florida to follow CDC guidance by limiting their gatherings to no more than 10 persons, distance themselves by 6 feet and support beach closures at the discretion of local authorities,” the Governor’s executive order said.

Coryea’s email said existing digital message boards would mention the social distancing guidelines and signs would be placed “all over the beach” reminding people about social distancing.

Her email recap said county personnel, as possible, would use four-wheelers to travel up and down the beach using a bullhorn to repeat the social distancing message.

A banner that says, “Make a Difference/Keep a Distance” that would be towed behind a plane flying along the Anna Maria Island coastline was discussed but not implemented.

According to Coryea’s email, there are also no plans to implement a county curfew.

“Not needed yet,” her email said.

Mayor’s suggestions

When contacted this evening, Mayor Titsworth discussed her beach-related suggestions and the conversations that took place at Wednesday’s meeting.

“I was wondering if we should cut the public beach to half capacity parking just to make it so there’s not as many people in such a small area, but that would be a hard thing for the police to enforce because there’s several entrances into the beach,” Titsworth said regarding the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach.

“I was getting complaints that there’s so many people on the beaches. Before the meeting today, I had the Chief (Police Chief Bill Tokajer) go up and down the beach and look for groups larger than 10 and for people staying apart from each other. He was pleasantly pleased that everyone seemed to be in smaller groups, and everyone was keeping their distance. He felt he was comfortable with it,” Titsworth said.

“The café’s already gone to half capacity, so they’re working hard on that,” she said in reference to Governor Ron DeSantis’ executive order ordering all Florida restaurants to reduce their capacity by 50%.

“During the meeting today, I said it looked like it was way better than it was on the weekend, but we have another weekend coming up and we’re going to have to keep monitoring it,” Titsworth said.

“The county wasn’t ready to do anything. John Chappie (the Bradenton Beach mayor) wasn’t ready to do anything. So, we said let’s continue monitoring because every day’s a new day. We also said if we find neighboring beaches are going to start closing – which would draw more people to ours – we’ll have to look at that as well,” Titsworth said.

Regarding the Tampa beaches being closed and the St. Petersburg beaches closing on Monday, Titsworth said, “That’s probably going to have an effect on ours, which is too bad. If people can self-disperse it at least gets them outside, which is healthy. You hate to have everybody trapped in climate-controlled environments, especially with all these kids.”

Anna Maria beaches

On Tuesday, March 17, Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said he had no intentions to close the city beaches. He said the city doesn’t have the resources to enforce city-wide beach closures.