The Board of County Commissioners during a special meeting Tuesday extended the current temporary closure of county beaches through April 30.

In addition, commissioners voted to temporarily block the road leading to the park in Highland View to eliminate vehicle access to the park, boat ramp area, rocks and beach beyond.

The date for extending the closing of county beaches was set to mirror the executive orders of Gov. Ron DeSantis urging residents to stay at home and visitors to leave; the order continues through May 1.

The BOCC issued a similar emergency declaration last week. (See story in this paper)

“I’m hoping we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Administrator Michael Hammond. “We’ve been fortunate we haven’t had the misery and death seen (in other parts of the country and state).”

Commissioners took note of the sudden outbreak in the past few days in Albany, GA, which has resulted in several dozen deaths.

“The lockdown is working,” Hammond said. “There will be a day when we get back to normal.”

Commissioner Phil McCroan noted that even with the county’s emergency orders, the sheriff’s office was still forced to deal this week with visitors continuing to come into the county despite a county emergency order to leave or self-quarantine for 14 days.

There were also homeowners renting properties “under the table” and off the radar of authorities, McCroan said, despite a governor’s order suspending vacation rentals in the state.

“It’s just in the best interest that we stick with (closing the beaches),” McCroan said. “Our reason to close the beaches was to close the attraction and protect our people.”

Sheriff Mike Harrison said for the most part local residents have responded to the county’s emergency orders to stay-at-home for other than essential needs, but “a few like to buck the system.”

A source of considerable complaint, Harrison and Commissioner Jimmy Rogers said, was the Highland View boat ramp area.

Construction is ongoing at the boat ramp, but people have been entering the park, navigating past construction and the rock revetment along the canal to the sandy beach beyond.

That beach, like all county beaches, is off limits under current county emergency orders, Harrison noted.

“There is a sandy beach there and the best thing to do is to close the park,” Harrison said. “Allowing folks access to the park allows them access to a beach where they are not supposed to be.

“Cut off the road and you cut off access to the beach.”

Hammond said folks should not be in the area anyway as construction on the new ramp is ongoing.

He added that the area might also be one of the most dangerous places in the county to swim due to the currents.

Grant funding

Commissioners approved the contract award for what Hammond called the largest Small County Outreach Program (SCOP) grant in the state.

GAC Contractors was awarded the bid for repaving and widening of County 386 under a near $10 million contract.

There will be some inconveniences, including a closure of a portion of the road at some point, but when completed the project will include improving the roadway and bridges, Hammond said.

The board also approved a contract award to Harders and Sons for an $870,000 project at the Eastern Shipbuilding site on the paper mill land bulkhead.

That is funded from a $6 million state appropriation to facilitate Eastern’s expansion into Gulf County to outfit Staten Island ferries.

Courthouse water break

Even had the County Courthouse not already been closed by BOCC emergency order, it would not have been open Monday due to a major water leak in the second floor.

A water line broke Sunday night and remained open for six hours until discovered Monday morning, said Public Works director Mark Cothran.

Both floors took about two to three inches of water on the northern side of the building, Cothran said, and county crews did significant clean-up Monday.

There was damage, to varying degrees, to the upstairs judge’s chambers and the offices of the Property Appraiser, Tax Collector, Judge and Public Defender.

The county will move ahead with replacing all water lines, Hammond said.

The initial estimate on repairs was $150,000 with a special clean-up crew and contractors due on site Tuesday.