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MEXICO BEACH — After taking a firm step in the sand last week to keep the beach open by banning public parking for beach access, Mexico Beach City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday to close its beach.
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Mexico Beach is the final government entity in the county to close its beach due to the threat of the spread of COVID-19. As of Tuesday, there were eight confirmed positive cases in Bay County.
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"We decided at last Thursday's meeting to limit the parking. And we did that for four days. We closed all beach access public parking," said Mayor Al Cathey. "I thought we had done a miraculous job of keeping folks that were here just to use our beach, I thought we kept them away."
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"But I guess the mood of the council was it wasn't successful enough," he added.
Cathey and councilman Jerry Smith were the dissenting votes. Although the mayor spearheaded the efforts to keep the beach open — limiting access by restricting parking — Smith pleaded with his fellow council members to "try to keep it open" and to "do what's best for the people of Mexico Beach."
The three council members in favor of closing the beach did not respond to request for comment by the time of press Tuesday. However, at last week's special meeting, both council members Darrell Key and Bobby Pollock had initially expressed that they did not believe the city was capable of enforcing the parking rules.
On Saturday, the beach saw quite a bit of foot traffic. Families toted folding beach chairs and large umbrellas on their backs and in the arms across U.S. Highway 98, keeping in line with the temporary parking regulation.
In Cathey's eyes, the city was very diligent about it, turning people away if needed.
"You would be surprised how many people we had from Panama City Beach. We had very few issues," he said. "We asked them to leave and most people fully understood."
The city deployed three deputies, four firefighters, a code enforcement officer, as well as patrols in golf carts to enforce the temporary rule. Violating individuals could have been hit with a $50 penalty and their vehicle towed.
Still, by Tuesday, council members signed an ordinance to close the beaches effective midnight Tuesday through the next two weeks.
Cathey said he never intended to be the renegade voice in the state for areas that have nice beaches. However, it was a matter of — after experiencing total desolation after Hurricane Michael — "enjoying a simple amenity, which is the only one we have."
"We have nothing here. We have no restaurants, everything is take-out. No hotels, motels, bars, we have nothing," he concluded. "And that's why I supported it. If there's some pleasure to be had in this crazy world we are living in, I thought taking a stroll on the beach and being socially responsible, that we can do that."