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Lavallette Agrees on Plan for Operating Beaches With Social Distancing

Lavallette lifeguard headquarters. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Lavallette lifeguard headquarters. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Lavallette will put a host of measures into effect this summer to guarantee social distancing once the borough’s official beach season begins June 20, with lifeguards on duty daily and beach badges required.

Lavallette, like all Jersey Shore towns, is required by the state to comply with Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive orders that mandate social distancing and limited access to beaches due to the coronavirus pandemic. While the outcome of the season is still in question, officials say one indicator – beach badge sales – are trending in the right direction.

“All things considered, it’s off to a pretty good start,” said Borough Councilman Michael Stogdill.

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The borough has already pre-sold 5,156 seasonal badges, totaling $257,700, and 1,483 senior badges generating $29,660. A few other revenue items like discounted badges for the disabled and over 700 parking stickers gave the borough a total income of $295,280 before the beach season started. Last year, total beach badge revenue totaled over $900,000 after two consecutive seasons breaking the $1 million mark.

This year, daily badges will come with an extra step for beachgoers. They will see signs on their way into town with notifications that daily badges must be purchased with credit cards at the borough’s municipal baseball field, where a kiosk will be set up with plexi-glass for social distancing purposes. For those who insist on using cash, the transaction will have to take place at the municipal building. In most years, daily beach badges can simply be purchased at beach entrances or from a roving badge checker. Some believe the new system could cause confusion.

“If I drove here, found a parking space on the beach block, got out of my car, walked all the way to the beach then I’m told, ‘you have to go all the way to Jersey City [Avenue],’ come on,” said Councilwoman Joanne Filippone.

Filippone and others asked if Lavallette could use its pavilions beside the boardwalk to sell daily badges, but Stogdill and Borough Administrator Robert Brice said it would cost $25,000 in salaries to staff the pavilions with checkers, with additional costs for the plexi-glass setups and networking equipment for card transactions.

The council as a whole favored the plan to sell badges at the baseball field.

“Maybe we could consider lifeguard headquarters down the road if we get major complaints about availability,” said Mayor Walter LaCicero. “We have to be adaptive, and we have to be flexible.”

Like its neighbors, Lavallette will also have ability to close beaches if officials feel they are getting too crowded, to the point where the level of occupancy violates Murphy’s executive order. Families should have no more than 10 people in a group and groups must remain six feet apart on the sand.

“There are formulas out there, other towns are flying drones out there – we’re not going to be doing that,” said Brice. “We’re going to be practicing common sense.”

The town’s beach captain will have the authority to close a particular beach entrance – there are 27 total – and direct people to other entrances, or the entire beach if necessary.

“I think it’s the best system because he’s going to be able to tell what the situation is on scene,” Brice said.

Stogdill said he would be surprised if there were any capacity-related closures except for three or four days during the entire season.

This year, the borough has made extra lifeguard stands so guards can be more spread out, allowing people to more easily distance themselves and still be protected under the guards’ watchful eyes. Officials are cautiously optimistic the season can be saved.

“There are a lot of people in town and a lot of people anxious to get back to normal,” said LaCicero. “I’m hoping by the time the beach opens June 20 that we’ll be as close as possible to normal.”

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