Lavallette officials, in a split vote at a borough council meeting Monday night, made the decision to reopen the town’s beaches but keep the adjacent boardwalk closed.
The mayors of several island towns met virtually earlier in the day Monday to consider a coordinated reopening plan, but there was no consensus reached, several participants in the call confirmed to Shorebeat. That left each town to plot its of reopening of beaches and boardwalks – or lack thereof – as the state continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
Lavallette’s borough council debated two main issues: whether to open only the beach and not the boardwalk, and whether to require masks to be worn by beachgoers, as several other local towns are planning. Several council members advocated for a reopening of both the beach and boardwalk, with social distancing measures in place, leading to a 3-3 vote which had to be broken by Mayor Walter LaCicero. The mayor broke the tie by supporting the plan to reopen the borough’s beaches but keep the boardwalk closed for now.
The resolution reopens beaches Tuesday morning and requires beachgoers to practice social distancing, keeping six feet apart and not gathering in large groups, however masks will not be required.
“We know that as it gets warmer, we’re going to just be dealing with more and more people here,” said LaCicero, equating a reopening of the beach as a test to see if social distancing practices work while also recognizing the reality of facing enlarged crowds as summer draws near. “With our size police department, any ban will be extremely difficult to enforce with 26 access points and just a handful of guys. I don’t know if we could succeed.”
Several council members also noted that last weekend, the bayfront area was extremely crowded and trash cans were overflowing. Social distancing techniques were not being practiced, but potentially because there were so few areas where people were allowed to go.
But the lack of social distancing on the bayfront was also part of the reason why some officials were reluctant to open the skinny boardwalk along with the wide beachfront.
“On the bay it’s a big issue,” said Councilman Michael Stogdill. “There are people jogging and then you have people who won’t move. They just don’t get it. There are groups of four or five who refuse to move – they’re just not practicing it. The boardwalk is only 12 feet wide.”
Councilman James Borowski supported the idea of a phased reopening under which beach access would come first.
“Right now, before the crowds do develop, we have an opportunity to train people to be more cognizant of the social distancing requirements so as it expands, we can still manage it,” he said. “I think we may be better off trying to [open] when there are less people here and see how it develops.”
While the beaches are now open, guidance for the formal reopening of the summer bathing season on the oceanfront is expected to come from Trenton this week, LaCicero said. The borough may face limitations on a statewide basis on beach attendance, parking and other factors.
“One of the thoughts would be to open one beach [guarded] and have everyone go there, but our insurance company said no to that,” said LaCicero. “It’s all or nothing.”
The problem with hiring a full staff of guards, badge checkers and public works crews could be one where crowds are reduced from their normal size – yet the borough has the expense of fully operating.
“If people are afraid to come down to the shore and we have a full staff of lifeguards and other personnel, we could see a loss of revenue,” he said.