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Lavallette Boardwalk Reopens Friday, But Officials Frustrated Over ‘Impossible’ Beach Regs

Lavallette life boat. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Lavallette life boat. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Lavallette will open its boardwalk Friday with several new regulations in effect, and plans to open its beach season June 20. Officials, however, expressed frustration with what they described as unclear and onerous social distancing guidelines for beaches that could be impossible to enforce.

The boardwalk, which has been closed since late March when the coronavirus pandemic began to spread to Ocean County, will reopen Friday following a vote by the borough council on Monday night. The most significant change on the boardwalk this summer will be the prohibition of bicycles, which was the result of a discussion on how to best keep visitors walking in correct directions at a proper distance from one another. Anyone using the boardwalk is being asked to keep as far right as possible to increase distance while passing others, and continually keep 6 feet of separation from non-family members. Borough officials are engaging with sign-makers to post regulations at entrances, and exploring the potential to paint a line down the middle of the boardwalk.

Swimming will resume in Lavallette June 20, as planned for months, but members of the borough council balked at what they saw as state mandates that were vague and potentially impossible to enforce. The social distancing regulations required in Gov. Phil Murphy’s guidelines for beaches could result in closing the beach at a given street if too many people are deemed to be on the sand, stopping the sale of daily badges or even prohibiting those with seasonal badges from accessing the beach.

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Murphy’s order calls for groups of no more than 10 people to congregate at one plot of sand, and to leave at least six feet between their group and another group. But enforcement could prove tricky, officials said, since beachgoers tend to congregate near lifeguards and families themselves sometimes consist of more than 10 people. Under the strictest interpretation of the regulations, engineers would have to calculate the capacity of a given block of sand, or municipal employees would be forced to patrol the beach, policing six-foot distances between parties. If a sunbather simply moves from a chair to a beach blanket, for example, the guidelines may be broken.

“I think what we’re seeing here is that these guidelines are impractical and impossible to implement,” said Mayor Walter LaCicero. “And that’s why the American people are revolting. I expect further revolt and further change, and by the time June 20 comes around, these rules will not be in effect anymore. It’s a total waste of time.”

Councilwoman Joanne Filippone agreed.

“Say you have nine people in a group, all family members, how many square feet are they entitled to?” she asked rhetorically. “They say we have to monitor this, according to the governor’s guidelines. Who’s going to enforce this?”

Borough Administrator Robert Brice said Lavallette officials may, indeed, be faced with these very issues. The borough has reserved the right to stop selling daily beach badges on extremely busy days – and even close certain areas of the sand.

“We may have to close some entrances to some areas of the town and direct people to other areas,” said Brice. “It may be only a few times a year, but the beach captain should have the ability to say, ‘we have to stop selling dailies’ if we exceed [capacity].”

The social distancing guidelines currently in place have also changed the way beach badges are sold. The borough is considering offering daily badges to be purchased through a smartphone app, but this would increase the cost of a daily badge from $12 to $13.65 since the app designer charges an extra fee. For those who desire seasonal badges, the borough plans on processing pre-orders in the coming weeks and arranging a pre-set pickup time for buyers to get their badges.

Brice said there is no direct sale of badges, at least for the time being. Those who want to buy badges must pre-order and pay with a check or credit card, then wait for notification from the borough on when to pick them up. The order forms are available from the borough website, in the lobby of borough hall, or in the Lavallette calendar. After an order is received by the town, the buyer will receive a phone call to arrange for pickup of the badges prior to the June 20 opening date.

Current plans call for a queue to be formed at various times in the court room at borough hall when residents and visitors can pick up badges.

“We’re requesting one person per party come in, that they wear a mask, adhere to social distancing and bring photo ID with them,” said Brice. “The whole courtroom will be staged – nobody will be closer than six feet apart.”

While the reopening plans passed muster with a majority of council members after a two-hour discussion, the meeting was characterized mostly by frustration with the current state of affairs.

“I couldn’t buy badges the way you’re explaining, I just couldn’t do it,” said Councilman Robert Lamb, who felt the system was overcomplicated.

On divvying up space on the beach, Lamb had an even starker stance: “This was the problem the Soviet Union had, too – how many squares you had to produce, how many widgets you had to produce,” he said. “It’s the same thing that’s happening here.”

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