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Fearing Crowds, Lavallette Officials Don’t Want to be First to Reopen Beaches

Lavallette life boat. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Lavallette life boat. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Eventually, beaches at the Jersey Shore will be able to reopen. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the state, there is no date certain as to when that time may come, but state policy allows individual municipalities to decide on when to allow beach and boardwalk access. (State and county beaches are closed under executive mandate.)

The important decision – one of many that will balance concerns over public health with those over the economy and access to natural resources – may be one that officials will treat hesitantly. In Lavallette, officials said Monday night during a virtual borough council meeting that they would not like to see their town open its beaches and boardwalk while neighboring towns remain closed – a prospect that would undoubtedly draw large crowds to town.

“Some people are asking if we can open our beaches and other people are asking if we can close our highways,” said Mayor Walter LaCicero. “We’re getting the full spectrum.”

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Right now, LaCicero said he is advising local business owners as well as residents to prepare for the possibility that beaches may operate normally over the summer if new coronavirus cases decrease steadily. But there is also the possibility that the season will be shortened or wiped out entirely. The middle option – a shortened season – comes with its own challenges for a small town like Lavallette.

“Right now, all the other beaches on our island are currently closed and I would hate to be the only beach that is open,” LaCicero said. “Because we certainly would see an influx of visitors knowing the beach would open and we’d have bigger problems than we have now.”

Borough Administrator Robert Brice said he and his staff at town hall are preparing for all options, ranging from a full beach season to a “doomsday” scenario which would leave the boardwalk and beach shut down all summer long.

“We are making plans to deal with any scenario,” Brice said. “The governor’s direction and guidelines will be more than obvious by [Memorial Day] and we will be able to plan based on that information.”

Officials say they do not want to see the beach remain closed, but are concerned about a scenario where the borough would become overcrowded if all local beachgoers were funneled in to a single town.

“As soon as we can open those beaches and the boardwalk without a problem, we fully intend to do that,” said LaCicero. “But we’re not going to be the leaders in this fight, we’re not going to take the most aggressive stance either.”

At the meeting Monday night, the council said it would like to plan on the usual July 4 fireworks, but work out a contract wherein the vendor would allow the celebration to be moved to another date if social distancing mandates are still in place come Independence Day.

“We have not signed a contract yet, but maybe we could make arrangements that if we cannot hold them on the Fourth, we could do them later in the year, possibly Labor Day or Founder’s Day,” said LaCicero.

The mayor, who is in frequent contact with his counterparts from other island towns as well as officials in Trenton, said Lavallette’s concerns are shared by others.

“The mayor of Seaside Heights is anxious to open his beach as well, but he’s worried that the boardwalk will be too crowded and they won’t be able to enforce any social distancing,” said LaCicero.

The options for reopening beaches are, at least, flexible, the mayor said.

“We’re all just watching the TV and new things pop up every day,” he said. “If something happens tomorrow, we could remove our restrictions – and the other communities are in the same boat we are. We have to keep our fingers crossed.”

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