By Stefanie Jackson – Cape Charles Beach is open and welcoming visitors after a 10-week closure due to COVID-19, but while Northampton County’s only public beach is free to visitors, the reopening comes at a hefty price for the town.
It will cost $56,000 to implement the 17 beach reopening requirements outlined in Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order 65, according to the Cape Charles Beach Re-Opening Plan dated June 5.
That is the price of the “return to a sense of normalcy” Town Manager John Hozey referenced in a public notice released last Friday.
The $56,000 will cover implementation of the beach plan through Labor Day, Sept. 7, or for about 13 weeks.
The cost included hiring three beach attendants; one on duty each weekday and two on duty each weekend, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Beach attendant duties include patrolling the beach every hour on weekdays and ensuring that social distancing guidelines and town codes are followed.
Beachgoers must stay 6 feet apart and may not gather in groups of more than 50. No group sporting event or entertainment is permitted. If a problem arises, police may enforce the rules.
The town has hired an additional police officer who will work each Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., assisting the regular-duty police officer and the beach attendants as needed.
The beach attendants and police officer conduct alternating beach patrols every half hour on weekends.
Equipment provided to the attendants includes a shade tent, high-visibility shirts, a cooler for dispensing ice and water, and radios for communicating with each other and police. They may also have access to a public works UTV (utility task vehicle) for completing patrols.
Other expenses include signs notifying the public of beach rules and guidelines.
A contractor has been hired to clean and sanitize the public beach restroom and high-touch areas such as the gazebo, LOVE sign, and dolphin sculpture. (The gazebo is currently closed but may be permitted to re-open when Virginia enters Phase 3 of its reopening, possibly later this summer.) Cleaning duties are performed every two hours from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Hozey explained why Cape Charles did not reopen its beach until a week after Virginia Beach, Va., opened its beach to guests.
Northam’s executive order 55 closed all beaches from March 30 to June 10 due to COVID-19, Hozey noted in a May 29 public notice.
“So, it is important to keep in mind that the whole reason for closing the beaches was because they were considered unsafe. Nobody wanted to hurt our economy,” he wrote.
Virginia Beach was able to reopen for Memorial Day weekend because it spent “several weeks of coordination” on a reopening plan.
When the governor announced Virginia Beach had been granted an exception to the statewide beach closure, “many people misunderstood and thought that all Virginia beaches had been reopened,” Hozey said.
Cape Charles was working on a comparable plan when “the governor took us by surprise” and announced May 28 that all beaches could open as early as May 29 if they implemented a long list of safety measures.
But it was “impossible” for Cape Charles to meet the guidelines with “one day’s notice,” Hozey said.
However, the town was able to finalize its beach reopening plan in time to welcome visitors back to the beach one week later, an announcement Hozey made in a June 5 public notice.
“Trying to balance economic concerns against public health concerns has been a real challenge, and we again want to thank you for your understanding and patience as we continue to seek this balance.”