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DEFUNIAK SPRINGS — The Walton County Board of County Commissioners’ unanimous Thursday decision to definitively include private beachfront property in a beach closure ordinance passed two weeks ago, was aimed at one thing.

Much of the half-hour special called meeting was spent noting that many beachfront properties serve as second homes for people who recently found themselves living under shelter-in-place orders and similar actions in their home communities.

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Many of those owners appear to have opted for spending that time at the beach, and/or allowing friends and family members to do the same, albeit now in a state where the governor on Wednesday announced a stay-at-home order that became effective at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

Nonetheless, the county commission’s Thursday action was clearly aimed at making this area a far less popular option for sheltering from COVID-19, the serious respiratory illness caused by the spreading new coronavirus.

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As commissioners met Thursday to consider taking further action on closing down the beaches, under state law granting broad powers in emergency situations, the issue was framed succinctly for them by Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson.

“You’re literally talking about thousands of people who are saying that they’re going to come here from states that have shelter-in-place orders, to this state that has a shelter-in-place order, and come and sit on the beach,” Adkinson told commissioners.

Punctuating his point, Adkinson hinted strongly that those people have no intention of adhering to the county’s initial beach closure ordinance, which was relying on voluntary compliance among beachfront property owners.

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“They’re not coming to sit and look at the four walls,” Adkinson told commissioners. “Let’s be clear about that.”

The amended ordinance approved Thursday by commissioners, enforcement of which was set to begin Friday, reads, in part, that it “shall be unlawful for any person to enter upon or remain on the beaches within Walton County.”

The ordinance amendment was prepared by Walton County Commission Chairman Bill Chapman, working with County Attorney Sidney Noyes after consultation with Adkinson, the county health department and the Tourist Development Council.

“We’ve had a significant change in circumstances since we adopted (the original ordinance),” Noyes told commissioners. At the time the ordinance was adopted, there was one COVID-19 case in the county. As of midafternoon Friday, there were 19 cases in the county.

Those cases are concentrated in Santa Rose Beach, Miramar Beach and Freeport, according to Holly Holt, administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Walton County. There are a number of private beachfront properties in those areas of southern Walton County.

“The idea is that if we were to close the beach, for public property as well as private property, that would discourage these non-residents from coming here and encourage them to stay in their homes,“ Noyes said.

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The amended ordinance squarely addresses what Adkinson told commissioners Thursday has been “quite a bit of consternation” expressed to him by county residents “with the folks who are second homeowners who are still bringing individuals from out of state -- from ’hot zones’ (for coronavirus spread) ... or areas where they have shelter-in-place orders.”

Some beachfront property owners, however, see themselves as collateral damage in what they view as an overly broad and misguided attempt by county officials to keep COVID-19 at bay.

Additionally, some of those property owners see the amended ordinance as a way for the county to assert the “customary use” principle that allows local governments to permit public use of the sandy area of beaches on otherwise private property.

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“This is a fundamental Trojan horse for (establishment of) customary use,” Ron Hart, one of a handful of beachfront property owners who spoke Thursday, told commissioners.

“I want to make sure I go on record saying you’re violating my property rights,” another beachfront property owner, Randy Sims, told commissioners.

After hearing from a couple of other beachfront property owners, including one who indicated a lawsuit would be filed against the action, a perturbed Chapman said, “We’re doing this for one reason and one reason only, to try and protect the public.”

“It’ important that we keep people out of here so that we protect our citizens,” echoed Commissioner Danny Glidewell immediately before the unanimous vote for the beach closure ordinance amendment. “I think we would be remiss in our sworn duty to the public if we don’t act to protect our citizens, and I don’t care who don’t like it.”

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