BELMAR, NJ — With coronavirus restrictions still in place along the Jersey Shore, Belmar's local summer is different from past years.
Beach badges are not required for access to the 1.3-mile oceanfront, but beach capacity and social distancing limits will be enforced for the remaining weekend of September 19 and 20, in order to address any influx of visitors.
While the Belmar Police Department will ensure those rules are being followed, a limited number of lifeguards will be on duty, stationed at the 10th Avenue safety pavilion, according to Borough Administrator Edward Kirschenbaum.
Restrooms are also expected to be staffed by attendants, and the Department of Public Works will have a crew along Ocean Avenue, he said.
In addition to the 21-block beachfront being monitored by drone, Kirschenbaum said he will seek the assistance of the borough’s volunteer Friendship Force to continue its summerlong efforts to encourage social distancing among visitors.
“We’re trying to do the best we can to protect the beach with the COVID situation and to make sure we’re keeping everyone safe,” Kirschenbaum said at the borough council’s September 1 meeting.
Plans to retain the seasonal beachfront work force after Labor Day — ticket booth and gate attendants — fell short since several keys employees in management positions are teachers who have returned to those posts, officials said.
“If we had staffing, we would have charged for two weekends after Labor Day, but we just don’t have the staff,” Kirschenbaum said.
With beach badge sales continuing in many nearby municipalities after Labor Day this year, Belmar Council President Thomas Brennan said his “nightmare” would be having visitors pour into Belmar where beaches will be free. He asked whether closing the Belmar beach entirely or opening certain beaches with paid access where lifeguards would be on duty have been considered.
In response, Kirschenbaum said that it would not be possible to close the beach because of the state’s public trust doctrine, which gives the public the right to full use of the seashore. And limiting beach access to certain areas would create another problem — having beachgoers wander to areas without lifeguards, he explained.
“Once they’re on the beach, they can go any place they want,” Kirschenbaum said. “If you’re charging people, lifeguards have to be there. If you open the beach, you have to do it the right way.”
Meanwhile, the borough plans to “stormproof” the oceanfront as it does every September. Beach lockers will be moved into storage beginning September 15 and sand fencing will be erected to protect the beachfront from erosion during the current hurricane season and upcoming winter months, Public Works director Michael Campbell said.
Added Kirschenbaum, “It’s hurricane season, and we only have a short period of time to get lockers off the beach and secure them for the winter time. We can’t risk them getting destroyed in a storm.”
Asked by a resident during the council meeting when the benches will be returned to the boardwalk. Mayor Mark Walsifer said that would occur only after Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order requiring social distancing is lifted.
The nearly 200 memorial benches were removed in May in order to make room for people to better keep their distance along the 1.3-mile boardwalk during the coronavirus outbreak.
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