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County, city begin to ease restrictions

Tim Croft
The Star

Following the lead of Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Board of County Commissioners and Port St. Joe city commissioners began dialing back some restrictions due to the novel coronavirus last week.

And both boards started with the B’s.

During a special meeting Thursday, the BOCC opened all county beaches and boat ramps for residents.

Commissioners did so reminding the public that the ban on short-term rentals remained in effect at least through the beginning of this week.

“I think we should lift (the beach closure) and see what happens,” said Commissioner Phil McCroan.

“We can always revisit it if we need to.”

County commissioners also unanimously approved opening the county boat ramps to all residents, including those at White City and Indian Pass which had been temporarily closed.

The county had closed the two at the request of Port St. Joe after the city closed its boat ramp.

Commission Chair Sandy Quinn, Jr., also addressed the many who had complained via email or phone about the beach closure and their rights as property owners and taxpayers to beach access.

“The reason we did this was to deter people from coming down here and to protect our citizens,” Quinn said.

Commissioners have universal since mid-March that any closing of beaches was aimed at eliminating the county’s number one attraction.

Quinn and Commissioner David Rich also emphasized that CDC guidelines remain in place on matters such as social distancing.

“We want it to all to come back as soon as possible, but we also want to keep people safe,” said Administrator Michael Hammond.

Hammond said the governor’s order prohibiting short-term or vocational rentals was due to expire this week, but indications were that it could be extended a week or two.

(The order was extended).

Commissioners emphasized they were following the lead of state and federal officials in attempts to re-open the county.

As for the courthouse, Hammond said he hoped the repairs from a pair of water leaks would be sufficiently completed to allow county offices to open on a limited basis beginning this past Monday.

Contact with the public will remain limited, Hammond said.

The day following the BOCC met the Port St. Joe city commissioners met in special sessions to begin to also ease restrictions due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“I would like to open the boat ramp for everybody,” Commissioner Scott Hoffman said as the meeting got underway.

Hoffman and Commissioner Bret Lowry have been consistently in support of leaving the boat ramp open for residents and the city, after initially closing the ramp to all, did just that two weeks ago, relying on Florida license plates and vehicle registrations for access to the ramp.

Lowry, for one, expressed a hope that the law enforcement presence could be dialed back, having received complaints from those feeling the law enforcement presence onerous.

Chief Matt Herring said with restrictions lifted and a return to normal, the enhanced enforcement was not needed.

In addition, commissioners decided to open the lobby of City Hall for those who wished to pay bills or do business with the city, but kept in effect the prohibition of the public beyond the lobby.

Commissioners were also asked to consider how the city should move forward on several fronts, including youth baseball and softball and summer recreation programs supported or sponsored by the city.

In addition, commissioners approved a one-time supplement, $1,000 for full-time employees and $500 for part-time employees, for staff’s efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.