BELMAR, NJ — Belmar officials are taking an all eyes on deck approach to maintain social distancing and keep beaches from overcrowding when the season opens this upcoming Memorial Day weekend.
Through the use of digital counters at beach entrance points, drone surveillance overhead and observations by foot and traveling patrols along the 1.3-mile oceanfront, they will be assessing the number of people on the sand in real time, while ensuring they are keeping at least six feet away from others.
If one beach fill ups, those trying to get on will be asked to move to another. And if social distancing cannot be achieved for the safety and security of visitors and borough employees alike, beach access points will be closed — until beachgoers begin to leave and it’s possible to allow more people onto the sand.
And on the boardwalk and along Ocean Avenue, social distancing will be enforced and face coverings encouraged, if not required in some settings.
Belmar’s beach plan was unveiled at the borough council’s May 19 meeting as the summer unfolds amid the coronavirus. The detailed plan is posted on its website.
“We are in a seashore town and trying to stop beachgoers when the temperature is above 70 and the sun is out is like trying to hold back the ocean,” said Mayor Mark Walsifer, adding that adjustments to the plan will be made when needed.
When peppered with questions during the online meeting as to why the borough is not limiting badge sales — as other nearby beach towns are doing — he responded: “The governor made it clear: If we deny one person access to the beach, it’s illegal.”
In fact, Belmar was among a handful of Jersey Shore towns that communicated directly with Gov. Phil Murphy’s team during the time beach-opening “guidance” was being drafted by the state and officially unveiled last week.
Following an overview of Belmar's plan by Borough Administrator Edward Kirschenbaum, it received the full support of the governing body, including Council President Thomas Brennan, James McCracken, Thomas Carvelli and Patricia Wann.
“I think people will be happy they can get on the beach and where they go is going to be safe,” said Brennan, who himself has worked along the beachfront for seven years. “We want to make sure people feel safe and have the right amount of space.”
Belmar’s beach plan is a collaborative effort of numerous borough officials, led by Kirschenbaum who has been working alongside the Police Department, Office of Emergency Management, Public Works Department, Beach Department, Belmar Beach Patrol and Code Enforcement, as well as the Belmar Social Distancing Task Force.
“We have to make sure the beach is safe for everyone — residents, visitors, business owners, beach employees, first-responders,” Kirschenbaum said, adding that cooperation is needed from everyone to make that happen, particularly when it comes to social distancing.
"There's no playbook on this," he said. "All we can do is hope people can work together and (we will) be able to adapt the plan."
Here are the highlights of the plan:
- The beach will be divided into four zones in order to manage capacity — while maintaining social distancing — and be able to shift beachgoers, if needed, to less-crowded areas. Those zones are: First to Sixth Avenue, Sixth to 11th Avenue, 11th to 16th Avenue and 16th to 20th Avenue.
- Social distancing will not be required for family groups, household members and couples.
- In addition to the main ticket area at Taylor Pavilion, where seasonal and daily badges will be sold, booths for daily badge sales will be situated along the boardwalk with two additional ones situated at Silver Lake — all staffed by one borough employee at each location.
- There will be no water fountains along the beachfront, but showers are now motion controlled.
- Restrooms will be open and cleaned on a regular basis.
- The playgrounds will remain closed.
- There will be no volleyball or other sports activities permitted on the beaches, including all forms of ball or Frisbee throwing.
- Lifeguards will be properly equipped following United States Lifesaving Association guidelines, particularly with the use a bag-valve-mask if resuscitation is required.
- Face coverings will be required in the restrooms and strongly encouraged when it is difficult to maintain a six-foot distance from others.
- Business owners along Ocean Avenue will be required to post an employee outside their establishments to ensure proper social distancing is maintained.
- A volunteer “Friendship Force” will be assisting to ensure visitors are social distancing properly.
- Failure to comply with social distancing guidelines will result in removal from the beach.
- Beachgoers are being strongly encouraged to visit the borough’s website or social media — on its Facebook page or on Twitter — to get real-time updates. In addition, Monmouth County will be offering a full rundown of updates at areas beaches on its website.
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