Tybee mayor issues statement after governor’s order reopens beaches

ByWTOC StaffandLyndsey Gough|April 4, 2020 at 1:13 PM EDT - Updated April 4 at 11:34 PM

TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WTOC) - Mayor of the City of Tybee, Shirley Sessions, released a statement Saturday morning on the reopening of the beaches after Governor Kemp’s order.

The mayor said in a statement:

"As the Pentagon ordered 100,000 body bags to store the corpses of Americans killed by the Coronavirus, Governor Brian Kemp dictated that Georgia beaches must reopen, and declared any decision makers who refused to follow these orders would face prison and/or fines.

While the beaches have to reopen under the Governor’s order, Tybee will not have beach access and parking lots will remain closed until further notice. It should also be noted that Tybee currently is not properly staffed with Emergency Medical Services and there are no life guards in place. At no time has the state designated a single point of contact to orchestrate the implementation of the Governor’s plan.

Additionally in spite of the serious health situation facing our community and the world, Governor Kemp has rescinded all restrictions put in place by local municipalities since March 1st.

Tybee City Council and I are devastated by the sudden directives and do not support his decisions. The health of our residents, staff and visitors are being put at risk and we will pursue legal avenues to overturn his reckless mandate."

Candice L. Broce, the Director of Communications & Chief Deputy Executive Counsel for the Office of Georgia Governor Brian P. Kemp sent the following response to the statement via email:

"There are roughly 150 people on the beaches at Tybee Island. The Department of Public Safety and Department of Natural Resources are patrolling the area and roads leading to the beaches to ensure compliance with the executive order. There are no issues to report at this time.

I have spoken directly with the Mayor and explained how we stand ready to provide resources to ensure compliance with the order. Throughout this process, Governor Kemp has been guided by the recommendations of Dr. Kathleen Toomey, public health officials in the private and public sectors, and emergency management officials to ensure the health and well-being of Georgians across our state. We continue to monitor the situation and deploy resources as needed. "

Georgia State Patrol had 15 units on the island Saturday, and the Georgia Department of Public Safety had a similar presence. At least one Tybee Island lifeguard was patrolling the beaches, along with two Georgia Department of Natural Resources units on 4-wheelers. Tybee Police were patrolling the parking lots, which still had “closed” signs and barricades up.

The sign blocking the beach entrance near the pier has been removed, but it is unknown who did it, but many of the other signs remained up. The city said they aren’t removing them until Monday. Most other signs, including the one on Third Street, remained in place.

While many officials weren’t happy about the beaches being reopened, some residents were happy to be able to walk or bike the two-and-a-half mile stretch.

“We spend a lot of time out here, mostly exercising, walking, you know, looking for shells or running, and having to run on the streets here the last few days, my knees are going to enjoy running on the beach," said Tybee resident Kyle Hockman. “Anything, you know, that we can have that is normal, and at the same time, respecting people’s distance and other people’s opinions, I think it’s a good thing, you know, but obviously there’s space, and as long as there’s space, and we can keep that distance and respect each other, I think things will be fine.”

Kemp’s Shelter in Place executive order that supersedes all local ordinances City Council had put in place, so these are some of the impacts the order will have on Tybee Island.

  • Tybee beaches are open to the public with the stipulation that tents, chairs and umbrellas are not allowed. It’s illegal for any person to pick, gather, remove, walk in the dunes, or disturb the vegetation present on sand dunes, including sea oats. Violators are subject to fines, arrest, and/or community service.
  • The local order mandating no new check-ins at short-term vacation rentals has been rescinded.
  • Also rescinded is the allowance for restaurants with a license for on-site consumption of alcohol to sell unopened bottles or cans of beer and wine for carry-out.
  • The ban on open consumption of alcohol has been rescinded.

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Photo: Getty Images

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