Public mostly abiding by local government directives to stay off beaches

Sarasota County staff details efforts that went into barricading Siesta facilities

A Sarasota County Government tweet on March 21 shows a mostly deserted stretch of county shoreline. Image courtesy Sarasota County via Twitter

Reports early this week from Sarasota County staff indicated that members of the public generally were abiding by the public beach closures County Administrator Jonathan Lewis announced during an afternoon press conference on March 19.

However, at least one resident complained to City of Sarasota leaders over the weekend about the flouting of the directive at Lido Beach.

Just after 5 p.m. on March 21 — not quite 12 hours after the closure went into effect for Lido and Siesta Key’s public beaches and accesses — a woman emailed City Manager Tom Barwin and City Commissioner Liz Alpert, writing, “[M]any people obviously don’t think the ban applies to them,” as numerous boats were anchored off Lido, and people had set up chairs and umbrellas on the beach.

“[D]ogs were running freely,” the writer added.

“Who will enforce the beach ban?” the writer asked.

Barwin responded on March 22: “Marine divisions were on duty today throughout the county and boating was very heavy. This is being reviewed.”

Alpert sent a note later that day to the correspondent, as well: “[W]e will be looking into this,” she wrote.

Early in the afternoon of March 23, the Sarasota Police Department tweeted, “We appreciate everyone staying off the public beaches in the [City of Sarasota]. Lido Beach is closed in an effort to prevent the spread of #COVID-19.”

The Police Department tweet included a photo of a Marine Patrol officer checking Lido Beach.

On Siesta Public Beach, photos posted by county staff on Twitter over the weekend showed mostly deserted beaches.

A busy night

County staff works to bring in materials to use in barricading the beach parking lots on Siesta Key overnight from March 20 to March 21. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The effort county staff put into closing down Siesta Public Beach — TripAdvisor’s No. 1 Beach in the United States — and Turtle Beach was intensive, as indicated by reports in Sarasota County Government’s public email folder.

At 2:24 a.m. on March 21, Kyle Carson, maintenance service manager for the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, sent an email to fellow county employees, pointing out, “First off, tonight’s execution of County beach closures was unprecedented …”

The effort began at 12:01 a.m., he noted, adding, “Great execution by [Public Works Department staff] with proper barricades and inventory and equipment on site. All staff worked quickly and safely.”

Carson added that Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office personnel were “extremely helpful at Siesta. They cleared out [approximately] 300 spring breakers and [approximately] 50 cars from [the] parking lot” from 11:30 p.m. to midnight.

At 6:02 p.m. on March 20, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis forwarded staff emails to the county commissioners.

Barricades are up at an entrance to the Siesta Public Beach parking lot. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“Our staff has worked hard to secure as many access points to the beach as resources allow,” he wrote.

“Public Works has placed two variable message boards to warn the public about the beach at Siesta being closed so that hopefully people will turn around sooner. The locations are similar to what we use for the 4th of July.”

Lewis added that staff was working to obtain more message boards, so those could be installed “at other key locations.” The City of Venice, he noted, has used its own message boards to assist.

Then, at 7:49 a.m. on March 21, Lewis wrote the commissioners again, acknowledging of the beach closings, “It is with great disappointment that we had to take this action during this unprecedented time in our lives …”

However, he continued, “[T]he county team with assistance from others has done a Herculean task.

A sign warns the public that Siesta Public Beach Park is closed. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“Our beaches are not like many [of those] around us,” Lewis added, noting that the public beaches are “spread out over the entire county interspersed with private [homes] and private property. … No easy way to gate many of the parking lots off.”

On March 22, county staff tweeted on the Sarasota County Government account, “Thank you for remembering that county-operated public beaches are closed. This means no beach walking, biking or swimming.”