Okaloosa County votes to close public beaches

The Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners held a meeting on Thursday morning, March 19 to discuss what the county’s response would be to COVID-19 in our local community.

Dr. Chapman, Director of the Florida Department of Health in Okaloosa County, asked the board to “treat this situation like a Cat 5 (hurricane)…Cat 10 even.” She continued saying, “except this is not coming from the ocean. This will have a financial impact but I’m talking about people dying here. We will not be able to keep up. But we have some chance to save our healthcare system.”

She ended her briefing by asking the board to take stricter actions regarding social distancing in Okaloosa County.

Following the briefing from Dr. Chapman, the board heard from Patrick Maddox, Director of Department of Public Safety for Okaloosa County, on possible options for public safety. Aside from closing the beaches completely, it boiled down to mandating limited beach hours or keeping the beaches open.

Destin City Council-member Parker Destin spoke before the board regarding closing the beaches. “We do have a lot of tourists who have done the right thing”, said Destin. “There are just a lot of tourists who do not want to accept that they’ve had to be inconvenienced and not take a vacation. There are a lot of young tourists who are not heeding warnings and feel they are invincible.”

“I don’t think that this decision-making process of choosing profits over people is going to age well. I believe this commission knows what it has to do. I think that we need to at least move through the process of flattening the curve.”

Parker Destin, Destin City Council-member

After taking public comments, the board ultimately decided to close public county beaches and public beach access points. The pier on Okaloosa Island will only allow fishing.

“This is the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make.”

Commissioner Kelly Windes

Here’s what is officially closed:

  1. Public beaches;
  2. Public beach access ways;
  3. Parking areas solely for accessing public beaches;
  4. County beachfront parks; and
  5. Okaloosa County Beach Vending Permits and Crab Island Vending Permits are hereby suspended.
  6. Okaloosa County pier closed to all except those who are fishing.

There was an attempt at an amendment to the ordinance moments later to try and include private and deeded beaches in Okaloosa County within this declaration, but it failed to pass. Additionally, an amendment to close the beaches to only tourists was tried and failed to pass.

What does that mean? Any business claiming private ownership of beaches in Okaloosa County can technically still use the beach.

This goes into effect on Saturday, March 21, 2020 and will last through April 30th unless repealed sooner.

This story is still developing as the meeting is still happening.

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