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MEXICO BEACH — Mexico Beach City Council has reopened its beaches somewhat to let residents enjoy recreation.
At a special city council meeting Wednesday, the council approved beach recreation hours of 6 to 9 a.m. and 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. daily for essential activities, including swimming, running, fishing, walking, biking, hunting, and hiking.
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The approved activities reflect Governor Ron DeSantis statewide stay-at-home issued on April 1 that specifies the limits of essential activities. Like all other beaches in Bay County, those in Mexico Beach have been closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
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“I read that about the governor, and his proclamation, if we call it an exercise beach and still keep no public parking ... no chairs, tents, no coolers,” Cathey said. “I think that we’ll have something here to give people some serenity. I think its just good for the soul, to walk on the beach. It’s who we are.”
However, the entire council was not sold on the idea. The vote was 4-1, with councilman Jerry Wallace dissenting.
To that, the mayor said he does not believe the modification will undermine efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus.
“No, I do not think that it will undermine or creates a potential hazard for our citizens,” Cathey said. He said the virus can be spread in a “multitude of ways” and as long as people are practicing social distancing and other guidelines and mandates, he’s “not worried about that.”
The city came under fire for keeping its beaches open in the days after beaches were closed in Bay and Gulf counties last month. While Bay County and Panama City Beach closed about 20-miles of beaches on March 20, six days later, Mexico Beach took action to keep its beaches open.
At a March 26 special meeting, the council agreed to close public parking to beach access. However, the council reconvened the following Tuesday and approved complete beach closure for 14 days.
At an Tuesday meeting, the council extended the closure for another 14 days, pending feedback from Gulf County regarding its agreement to continue emergency medical services to the city. The council then held a special meeting to discuss modifications to the beach closure rule by approving recreation hours.
“Our beach is closed,” Cathey emphasized. “We have made two simple adjustments to the time that people can use it. We are not inviting people in any way to come to Mexico Beach to use our beach. If they have to travel here, they do not need to be doing that. The travel ban is still in effect.”
Per the ordinance, equipment that may be used for fishing and active sports is permitted. However, lounging items such as umbrellas, chairs, tents and beach towels laid on the ground are not allowed.
Parking at beach access points is not prohibited.
City Administrator Mario Gisbert said in a text message Thursday morning that the modification is "intended for local exercise" and the city hopes people, presumably from other cities, do not flock to the beach because "we will potentially end up closing it back to no access."
Like the March 26 parking ban, deputies and firefighters will enforce the order.
“We don’t have anything here. I know it will take some effort and energy (to enforce the rule) on the beach,” Cathey concluded. “But, for our little town, (going to the beach) is a big part of a lot of people’s everyday life.”