Port St. Joe city commissioners inched closer to a stated goal during an emergency meeting this past Tuesday.
They could consider the next step during their regular bi-monthly meeting this coming Tuesday.
Commissioners met in emergency session to consider the closing of the boat ramp at Frank Pate Park, a 14-day order which was to sunset this week.
Commissioners unanimously voted to maintain the boat ramp closure for another seven days, but also on parameters for an ordinance they are likely to take up during Tuesday’s regular meeting.
That ordinance would begin the re-opening of the boat ramp.
With some details left to tidy up, in general outline, commissioners voted to re-open the boat ramp to Gulf County residents only, to codify a $500 fine and notice to appear for a first offense and place signage to that effect at the boat ramp area.
Additionally, at the suggestion of resident Dusty May, commissioners will revisit the decal system put in place several years ago.
“I am all for opening the landing for a group small enough for us to handle and I think Florida tags is a way to go,” said Commissioner Scott Hoffman.
“I would prefer it to be just Gulf County residents, but my concern is enforcing it without increasing the exposure of our (police) officers.”
Commissioner David Ashbrook cautioned that there are “hot spots” for the virus in Florida.
Hoffman clarified that he would prefer restricting access to the boat ramp to “permanent residents of Gulf County.”
Enforcement has been a significant stumbling block from the outset, commissioners reluctant to stretch already thin law enforcement assets.
“That is my number one concern,” said Commissioner Eric Langston, who has also been vocal about insufficient social-distancing in the neighborhood of North Port St. Joe.
But, commissioners, particularly Hoffman and Commissioner Bret Lowry, have also been searching for a way to keep the boat ramp open for residents since closing it more than two weeks ago.
Commissioners voted to direct the attorney Clint McCahill to draft an ordinance to re-open the boat ramp.
Commissioners also directed staff to order and place signage in the area of the boat ramp alerting users to the changes in regulations.
“I think it should say ‘For permanent county residents only and all others will be towed away or issued a notice of appear,’” Hoffman.
The board also approved the $500 fine for a first offense.
Mayor Rex Buzzett said he wanted to hear more ideas over the coming days before the next meeting and suggested, as May had, that returning to the stickers or decals might be the route to take.
That would include the printing of new stickers, which are free for county residents, said City Manager Jim Anderson, as the city has already issued a couple of thousand of decals over the years.
“It is free but they are going to have to have a sticker,” Buzzett suggested if the city, moving forward adopted the stickers/decals system.
Buzzett also cautioned that commissioners are not returning for their regular meeting next week with a pledge of re-opening the boat ramp.
The threat of coronavirus, the reason behind the boat ramp closure, was still very real and the county remained “vulnerable.”
But commissioners were in agreement that circumstances could warrant allowing local residents use of the boat ramp.
And, in some cases as sounded during public comment during the emergency meeting, get some charter boat captains back to work.