Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon took to Facebook this morning to say he has no plans to limit boaters’ access to the city-owned Robinson Island unless ordered to do so by state or federal authorities. Suggesting such a closure could “cause chaos” and “be unenforceable,” Kennon did say police officers would be on and around the island during peak times this weekend to monitor social distancing guidelines and take action if necessary.
Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Public Health closed 60 miles of gulf-front beaches late last month, closures which are being enforced by municipal law enforcement agencies including Orange Beach. Robinson Island is roughly 14 acres of property, according to county land records.
Photos posted on social media last weekend gave a “false impression” of people closely congregating, Kennon said, but afterward, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency dispatched a drone to take aerial photos of the scene and “was very pleased” with the social distancing taking place, later reporting to the governor’s office “they had no problem with it.”
Kennon said Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Director Chris Blankenship also approved.
Kennon clarified that Bird Island, the most southern island in Perdido Pass, is state-owned along with the waterways and most boat launches. To close city-owned property while state-owned property remains open “would cause confusion,” he said.
“We have lots of folks out there but it’s not unique to Orange Beach,” he said. “Anywhere there is water in Alabama and people are in their boats, they are gathering.”
Still, Kennon said police officers would be on-scene, ensuring boats are a minimum of 25 feet apart, and people aren’t congregating in groups of more than 10. He said boaters will not be allowed to tie boats together, and recommended those who don’t know each other stay a minimum of six feet away from each other.
“We are going to be very nice and police the first time, the second time not so much,” he said. “And there will be no third time.”
Orange Beach has been slower than some local municipalities to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The City Council didn’t adopt a state of emergency until a special-called meeting March 20, but even then, Kennon noted “it was strictly for financial reasons,” although City Administrator Ken Grimes clarified there were also “public safety concerns.”
The city’s library was open until March 23, and the senior center and recreation facilities remained open until March 28, closing only after Gov. Kay Ivey’s amended health order shuttered most businesses deemed “non-essential.” During the March 20 meeting, Kennon suggested seniors in particular needed somewhere to gather to “play cards and dominoes” and expressed concerns about the closure of childcare facilities for employees who still relied upon it.
As recently as March 17, which was three days after the Alabama Department of Public Health reported the first case of COVID-19 in Baldwin County, the city hosted a town hall meeting to discuss the crisis.
“This is a very difficult situation, a very fine line to walk between protecting people’s health but also realizing we have an economy that is important to a lot of people that have to pay their bills,” he said at the meeting. “We have to find a middle ground. The two extremes of, extreme profit at the expense of health is not acceptable, to totally shut the city down, the roads down, is not acceptable … we are making decisions based on fact, research, data … not acting out of fear and hysteria. We can’t do that.”
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