DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Walton County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to reinstate county permitting of beach bonfires and special events on the beach effective immediately, amending the terms of the local state of emergency declared in March.


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The beach bonfires had to clear a second hurdle, an outdoor burning ban instituted by the county commission early this month as the Mussett Bayou fire burned across nearly 350 acres of South Walton County.


►RELATED: (May 7) South Walton residents escape fire; home reduced to smoking rubble


That ban was lifted with a unanimous commission vote on Tuesday, after commissioners heard from Walton County Administrator Larry Jones.


According to Jones, local fire chiefs had recently consulted with Walter Bowers, Walton County area supervisor for the Florida Forest Service, and all were “in agreement that lifting it would be appropriate, with continuing monitoring, and be(ing) prepared that if we need it again, we can reenact it.”


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The vote on the burn ban came four days after the Florida Forest Service declared that the Mussett Bayou fire had been 100% contained.


The move to reinstate county-permitted beach events and bonfires came on a motion from Commissioner Tony Anderson as the commission reviewed the local state of emergency declaration approved on March 16. The declaration has to be reviewed every seven days, with the commission chairman empowered to act on it in the weeks in which the full commission does not meet.


The local state of emergency was declared, in part, to limit large gatherings in the county in light of the spreading coronavirus and its associated serious respiratory illness, COVID-19.


Specifically with regard to the commission’s Tuesday action, the local state of emergency had suspended all events conducted under terms of county permits, and did the same with special events being conducted under the county’s beach activities ordinance.


The commission’s Tuesday action does, however, maintain some limits on beach bonfires and events conducted under the beach activities ordinance, limiting attendance at those events to 10 people, and mandating that participants observe “social distancing” guidelines aimed at helping to control the spread of COVID-19.


As of Wednesday afternoon, Florida Department of Health data showed that Walton County has had 109 people, including 15 non-residents, test positive for COVID-19, with 15 hospitalizations and nine deaths. All of the deaths have occurred at Chautauqua Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in DeFuniak Springs.


In other COVID-19-related news from Tuesday’s commission meeting, commissioners agreed to send a letter and a resolution to Gov. Ron DeSantis supporting a plan developed by the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties for the distribution of federal funding being made available to governments through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.


The CARES Act has earmarked $8.3 billion for Florida, with 45 percent of that money to be steered to local governments based on certain population criteria.


Under the proposal developed by the FLC and the FAC, Walton County would receive $4.2 million in CARES Act funding, with DeFuniak Springs slated to receive $338,000, Freeport in line for $359,000 and Paxton set to receive $36,900.