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Franklin County will close boat ramps to non-residents, keep beaches closed

Posted at 3:49 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 15:54:44-04

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) — Franklin County Commissioners have passed an ordinance limiting all boat ramps in the county to residents only.

Thursday, the Franklin County Board of County Commissioners, joined by the Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith, the Franklin and Gulf counties Department of Health Administrator, the CEO of Weems Memorial Hospital and an audience of several dozen residents, held a special meeting.

During the morning call, the sentiment was the same from the sheriff and other county officials: Now is not the time for people to be visiting Franklin County.

As part of that effort to deter out-of-town visitors, the board unanimously agreed to close boat ramps to non-residents. That ordinance does not apply to residents, non-resident property owners, or residents who have their commercial fishing license.

While Gov. DeSantis' safer-at-home order does allow for outdoor activities (while following social distancing guidelines), travelers into the state are required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their arrival.

If you violate the ordinance, you could face a second-degree misdemeanor and up to six days in jail as well as a $500 fine.

For those who are authorized to use the boat ramps, you need to make sure you have your ID (with a Franklin County address) as well as a tax bill, deed to property, signed lease or utility bill.

The ordinance will take effect at midnight on Friday, April 10.

During the call, commissioners also agreed to extend the beach closure until both the local and state emergency declarations expire. When asked when exactly that will happen, officials said they had no specific date.

Commissioners also passed an emergency ordinance prohibiting people from camping or living at public parks, boat ramps, and fishing piers in the county.

Sheriff A.J. Smith, with the commissioners' approval, is also seeking guidance from the Department of Transportation to try to create checkpoints along the county's entry points, so law enforcement can better keep track of out-of-town visitors.

On the call, Franklin and Gulf counties Department of Health Administrator Sarah Hinds also stressed the importance of social distancing, citing models released by Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare anticipating a potential surge in COVID-19 cases in the area in June or May.

David Walker, the CEO of Weems Memorial Hospital in Apalachicola, also expressed concern about adequate testing in the county. While he said limited testing was being done at Eastpoint Medical Center, he said he was working to get a mobile testing site in the county.

Walker also said that the hospital is doing everything they can to secure personal protective equipment for their workers.

To get daily updates about the COVID-19 response to your phone, text FRANKLINCV19 to 888777 you'll get the same updates that media, community partners and others are getting.