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 second in a series of articles highlighting each of the Downbeach towns’ approach to opening the beaches.
Ventnor City commissioners have maintained their efforts to gradually open the beach and boardwalk with caution. After much discussion at their meeting, Thursday, May 14 about how to ensure the safety of the public and members of the Beach Patrol, the city issued its beach opening guidelines Friday morning.
According to Commissioner of Public Safety Tim Kriebel, the beach will be open for walking, running, jogging and dog walking on a leash while maintaining social distancing until May 22. The boardwalk will remain closed until further notice to accommodate construction in certain areas.
“It will be a different beach season than we have ever seen,” Kriebel said.
However, pursuant to Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order of Thursday, May 14 permitting towns to open their beaches, Ventnor will permit sunbathing starting Saturday, May 23.
“Opening of the boardwalk to normal bike and pedestrian traffic is planned for the following week starting Friday, May 29,” Kriebel said in his weekly COVID-19 update.
Bike traffic will be limited to the hours of 6 a.m. to noon, Saturday and Sunday, and daylight hours on weekdays.
Beachgoers will be expected to follow social distancing guidelines and stay apart as much as possible.
“It is critically important that everyone respects these guidelines and each other so that we can all enjoy Ventnor’s greatest natural asset,” he said, and beachgoers can expect to see more police on the beach enforcing the requirement.
Beaches will be guarded on the weekend at Suffolk, Dorset, New Haven and Lafayette avenues, with two lifeguard stands at each location. That will allow the city to expand the area for swimming.
To protect lifeguards who wear board shorts and are not equipped with personal protective gear, the Ventnor City Fire Department will add two EMTs who will be stationed on the beach to respond in an emergency and reduce the risk for guards, many of whom are younger, Fire Chief Michael Cahill said.
Although lifeguards are first responders on the beach, in this atmosphere, they are not prepared to respond to medical emergencies related to the coronavirus, Cahill said.
Certified seasonal EMTs with more than five years of experience, including two ex-military, who are fully trained in COVID-19 response and will be equipped with the appropriate PPE, will support lifeguards, Cahill said, to keep contact with lifeguards to a minimum.
Capt. David Funk said some of Ventnor’s lifeguards are already EMT certified and will work in concert with the seasonal EMTs.
“(Lifeguards) will perform water rescues to the best of their ability, try to maintain social distancing as much as possible…and then hand-off any severe victim or patient to the next level of care,” Funk said. “It’s really going to be up to the public to bear with the lifeguards. We want to be role models at the forefront and show the public how it’s done.”
Facemasks are not required but they are recommended. Contact sports and organized events, such as festivals and concerts, will not be permitted.
Ventnor has showers in certain areas on the boardwalk, but they will not be activated until June 29, Kriebel said.
“Social distancing must be maintained while using and waiting for the showers,” he said.
The Public Works Department is working on creating a schedule for cleaning restroom facilities. Pier restrooms currently under construction won’t be opened until later in June, Kriebel said.
Signage will be installed in key locations, but residents and visitors are encouraged to keep up-to-date on the city’s policies by visiting ventnorcity.org or on the city’s Facebook page.
“We will add banners at popular beaches that show what 6 feet looks like,” Kriebel said.
“I don’t think we can be any more prepared,” Cahill said.
The Police, Fire and Beach Patrol have a comprehensive plan, he said.
“The Beach Patrol has their operations down to a science. We are operating in support of them,” he said.
Cahill said in the last week public safety officials developed three plans, each of which changed within days.
“It’s all based on citizens on the beach,” he said. “I have doubts on big weekends we will be able to maintain social distancing on the beach. I don’t think it’s going to be very easy for PD to do that. Beach Patrol is not a law enforcement arm. They are not supposed to be doing that. People are supposed to be smart,” he said.
“We believe that a slower roll into a more dense environment is safer for the spread of the virus,” Kriebel said. “At this point, it’s very fluid.”
He said safe distancing will be more difficult on the boardwalk with walkers, runners and bicycle riders all sharing the road.
“We want the summer to be as successful as possible in this new environment,” Kriebel said.
A section of the beach in the south end of the city has washed away over the last two years. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection are planning a beach replenishment this fall, Commissioner Lance Landgraf said. The Army Corps is scheduled to award a contract in July, with hopes construction will start in September or October.
Funk said it is normal for the sand to shift during the early summer, but it could be difficult to access the beach in that area during high tides.
“If it’s really bad on that end of town, there could be hours when it may not be permissible to sit,” Funk said. “From a standpoint of a response to that area, it’s almost impossible. The guards can do their job out front, but when the water hits the dunes, there’s really no where to go,” he said.
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