Closing the beaches: Who actually has the authority to do it? – Port City Daily

SOUTHEAST N.C. Oceanfront towns across the region have closed access to the beaches and ended all short-term rental with the hopes of slowing the spread of Covid-19. Because tourists, by definition, are not from the area an influx in population from other places would put locals at a higher risk of contracting the virus from someone visiting from another city.

There has been plenty of debate on the fairness of the closures with elected leaders on both sides of the argument, but questions still remain like how much authority does a town have to actually take these actions and is it the beach itself that is closed, or just access to it?

In general, the beaches of North Carolina are not owned by municipalities or private residents, instead, they are in the public trust. This means nobody really owns the beaches (they are a public trust and thus, in essence, the people own them). However, towns are typically granted some extraterritorial jurisdiction allowing them to police the sand.

This is why, for example, Freeman Park is open to the public for those who want to walk on to the property because the town does not have the right to keep people off the beach.

So how are all these beach towns closing down access to a publicly held resource?

The declaration of a state of emergency gives municipalities and counties significant power, as seen during hurricane season government can even force people to leave their homes (mandatory evacuations).

Related: Corona Break: Thousands gather on Carolina Beach as Town Council votes to close beach accesses [Free read]

But many of the towns across the region have been deliberate with their words when it comes to closing the beaches. Most of the municipalities have played it safe by closing public beach accesses and parking lots, effectively making a boat or private beach access the only way someone could get onto the sand. The question remains: can towns actually shut down the beaches for boaters and those with their own access?

The town of Carolina Beach is working on answering that question.

We have closed all public beach accesses and public parking lots. Whether we can restrict property owners who have private accesses to the beach from going on it is in question and we hope to have more clarification on it very soon, Town Manager Bruce Oakley said.

New Hanover Countys state of emergency declaration and subsequent closure of the beaches actually came after beach towns took place after the towns had already announced the closures. But even the countys declaration is worded to simply close beach access points.

New Hanover County, authorized by Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman, issued a State of Emergency today, March 20, prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people and closing public beach access points, in order to ensure social distancing and reduce risk of COVID-19 [italics added], a statement from the county last month read.

The declaration itself is a little more explicit but still leaves some ambiguity.

Access to beaches including, but not limited to, wet and dry public trust strands is prohibited with noncompliance enforceable as a trespass and as otherwise authorized by General Statute 166A. This prohibition does not include boat launches or docks, according to the order from New Hanover County (it is worth noting that the county did, in fact, close boat launches and marinas later).

More recently, the state decided to closed Masonboro Island and Bird Island to all visitors. The state entity, the Department of Environmental Quality, issued the order to close both wet and dry sand beaches, effectively shuttering the unpopulated islands.

While beaches remain in the public trust it does appear that local authorities, as well as the state, do have the ability to close them off temporarily during a state of emergency.

Visit link:

Closing the beaches: Who actually has the authority to do it? - Port City Daily

Related Post

Comments are closed.