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Martin Prepares to Reopen Beaches with Fears of Traffic from South

As beaches reopen across the Florida peninsula, some residents in those parts of the state are concerned about a possible invasion from heavily-populated South Florida.

The Martin County Commission voted Friday to reopen most of its beaches beginning Monday, May 4, despite concerns that people from Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties could drive up I-95 for a day of sun and sand.

Although Gov. Ron DeSantis last week announced a partial reopening of the state, he excluded the three South Florida counties, which have the state’s highest numbers of COVID-19 cases.

“There may be 20 counties that have opened up their beaches — the big difference is those counties are not adjacent to the three most infected counties in Florida,” says Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard, who voted against reopening the beaches at Friday’s commission meeting. “There’s 6 million people living to the immediate south of us. … It would be reckless, in my estimation, to open up our beaches right now.”

According to Stacey Hetherington, vice chair of the county commission, “We obviously welcome visitors and love to have visitors in our downtown, our restaurants and our beaches. Even on this occasion, it’s OK to have visitors. But we can’t absorb millions of people from down south in a small county. We just can’t.”

The commission has agreed to open the beaches on a trial basis and will revisit the issue at its May 15 meeting.

Earlier in the COVID-19 crisis, Martin County’s beaches became overwhelmed when those in South Florida were closed.

“We were just absolutely swamped,” says Hetherington. “When people couldn’t find parking, they were parking on A1A. People were running across the road to get things. It would have been a safety hazard even outside of the virus.”

Social distancing will still be required at Martin’s beaches, and the vote to reopen them excluded Hobe Sound Beach, due to its proximity to Palm Beach County. Bathtub Beach will also remain closed, largely due to sand erosion.