By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
As similar as they are, the Downbeach towns of Ventnor, Margate and Longport are unique in the amenities they offer beachgoers. Their approach to Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order allowing Jersey Shore beaches to open Memorial Day weekend are just as unique. Ventnor has a boardwalk and beach-block parking, and a degraded section of beach in the south end; Margate has wider beaches and the popular Decatur Avenue beach in front of Lucy the Elephant, which has in recent years become a Memorial Day Mecca for thousands of graduating high school seniors; and Longport’s beaches are also wide but a bit more bucolic with fewer crowds.
We asked leaders in all three towns to address requirements of Executive Order 173, which Murphy signed Thursday, May 14. In it, Murphy is requiring towns to limit capacity, enforce social distancing, establish protocols for lifeguards, sanitize restrooms and establish public outreach and education campaigns.
Although public officials in each of the towns were collaborating on creating a unified plan for all the beaches south of Atlantic City, they have decided to address concerns in each of their towns because of their uniqueness.
This is the first in a series of articles highlighting each of the Downbeach towns’ approach to opening the beaches.
“I don’t believe it will be a problem to enforce social distancing on our beach until the very hot weather in July and August,” he said. “When it does get hot, beachgoers want to be at the water’s edge, which could become a problem. However, our beaches are 75- to 100-feet wide so there’s plenty of room for people to stay away from each other.”
The only beaches in Longport that attract larger crowds are from 32nd to 34th avenues and 36th Avenue.
“These are the beaches that have a propensity for being crowded. We do not have a system in place yet, but we’ll figure it out,” he said.
Russo believes the borough’s 3-hour restrictions on parking in certain areas will be enough to eliminate overcrowding in the morning and afternoons.
“People who go to the beach in the morning are usually out by the time the afternoon crowd rolls in around 1-1:30 p.m.,” he said.
Because lifeguards do not wear protective personal equipment, he recommends the Beach Patrol limit swimming to knee-deep water until the borough has additional safety protocols in place.
“We are still doing training according to MEL JIF (Municipal Excess Liability Joint Insurance Fund) best practices,” he said. “We envision using EMTs who are already on the beach patrol, who will be in uniform and have the appropriate PPE if they have to respond to an emergency.”
Russo said the borough would not remove or rope off benches as recommended in the governor’s executive order.
“I’m concerned about the elderly and people with disabilities who might get tired crossing the dunes,” he said. “We have to have some discretion and use reasonableness on these issues. A lot of this will be up to individuals to police themselves.”
The borough will increase signage highlighting do’s and don’ts.
“The signage has to be short and concise and easy to read. If we do ‘War and Peace’ nobody’s going to read it,” he said.
On the advice of a medical professional, restroom doors will remain open to allow fresh air to flow while they are not in use. Restrooms are located at 23rd and 33rd avenues. Signage will direct users to keep the door open. Russo said the borough has disinfecting foggers and will use them, but how often they will be sanitized has yet to be determined.
Enforcement of regulations will be up to the Police Department.
“The primary objective of the Beach Patrol is water safety. We will bring on additional personnel on ATVs to look at how social distancing is being adhered to. If there are any problems, the lifeguards will alert the police using their radios.”
Russo said he believes about 25% of summer residents have already come to their shore homes.
“We’ll have a good dry run this weekend,” he said, but many renters won’t start their leases until the Memorial Day weekend.
GUARDED BEACH SCHEDULE
Guarded beaches are where swimming is allowed. Beaches in Longport are guarded from June 6 to Sept. 20, weather permitting. Swim only where lifeguards are present.
On the weekends of May 23, May 30, the beaches at 16th, 26th, 30th and 33rd avenues will be guarded at the discretion of the chief. Additional beaches will be guarded as follows:
June 6 – 19th and 31st avenues
June 13 – 13th and 35th avenues
June 20 – 21st and Pelham avenues
June 26 – 25th Avenue
July 2 – Evergreen Avenue, weekends, chief’s discretion
Surfing beaches are at 12th, 22nd, 28th and 32nd avenues.
Kayak beaches are between 14th-15th, 22nd-23rd, 27th-29th and 32nd-33rd avenues.
Beach tags are required after Father’s Day, June 21. The borough is waiting for delivery of beach tags from its vendor. Information about how to purchase them will be forthcoming when they are received.