BELMAR, NJ — Belmar officials are moving forward to open the beachfront by Memorial Day weekend, but with social distancing measures in place to ensure the safety of residents, employees and visitors during the coronavirus outbreak.
While these plans were discussed at the borough council’s May 5 meeting, Belmar and other beach communities have not yet received any official direction from the Murphy administration on how to proceed, particularly since a statewide stay-at-home order remains in effect and nonessential businesses remain shuttered.
“This situation changes hour by hour, day by day. And we continue to wait for orders and information from the governor’s office,” said Borough Administrator Edward Kirschenbaum. “It’s impossible to stop the influx of people to the Jersey Shore.”
Below is the video of last night's borough council meeting:
In addition to establishing its own task force to drive the effort, Belmar has also been part of a countywide initiative that involves ongoing talks with officials in other beachfront communities — from Sea Bright to Manasquan — and well as County Freeholder Director Thomas Arnone.
And that cooperation among towns up and down the Monmouth coast is critical, according to Belmar Mayor Mark Walsifer. “We all need to open together and have all the social distancing in place,” he said.
For Belmar, maintaining social distancing will be its main mission this summer — with police patrols and even drones monitoring the situation along the 1.3-mile beachfront. Signage detailing the social distancing rules will be placed at every ticket booth.
“If we can’t be social distant, the beaches will be shut down,” Walsifer said. “We will play it by ear because we don’t know what Memorial Day will look like.”
Currently, the borough’s boardwalk is closed, but the beach is open. In addition, parking is prohibited on the east side of Ocean Avenue and residents-only parking has been implemented in certain areas of town to keep out visitors during the stay-at-home mandate.
But with the start of the prime beach season just two weeks away, those restrictions will soon be lifted — beginning with the opening of the boardwalk, which is expected by the end of the week, Walsifer said.
Belmar public works employees and lifeguards are in the process of removing nearly 200 benches from the boardwalk to prevent people from gathering along the 1.3-mile walkway. No bicycles, skateboards or dogs will be permitted at any time.
In addition, paid parking will return to Ocean Avenue’s east side, with payment to be made through a parking app or by phone, rather than at kiosks.
As the borough rolls out its reopening plan, officials continue to emphasize that state guidance is needed as they proceed. And Gov. Murphy seems to be in no rush, as he said at his May 5 press briefing:
“With all due respect on Memorial Day weekend … I’m sorry we can't give you more definitive guidance yet on things that we're working on,” he said. “This is the fight of our lives. We are considering data. We're considering perspectives. But we’ve got to do it right. We’ve got to do it responsibly. We've got to do it safely, and we are committed to that … whether you like that or not.”
While nonessential businesses remain closed, state and county parks and golf courses were given the go-ahead to reopen.