To open or not to open? The great beach debate continues in Pinellas County

Many Pinellas County residents are ready to get back to the beach. With Sarasota County reopening its beaches for exercise on Monday, many residents hope Pinellas County will be next and some leaders seem to agree.

"Unlike a lot of other places where you have a destination beach, we have 35 miles of beaches. Many of our residents live on the beach. They go out and walk for exercise. That's no different than walking down the sidewalk," Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said.

Burton is hoping county commissioners vote to re-open the beaches sometime this week. It's a decision Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is now pushing for despite saying last week it wasn't the right time.

"Pinellas County has accomplished the goal of stabilizing the number of new cases," Sheriff Gualtieri said in a Facebook post-Saturday. "Pinellas County residents have adjusted to the new norm of social distancing, and I believe they will continue to responsibly use these best practices on our beaches and in the pools."

Burton submitted a three-page memo to commissioners late Friday asking them to consider lifting some restrictions. In the memo, he proposes re-opening public restrooms, beaches, and parking lots so long as cities have 2 days to prepare. As for pools, he recommends local hotels and condos open their pools, but only allow up to 50 percent capacity.

"The idea is that if you're out in the fresh air and you do separate well then you're not a danger to others," Burton said.

St. Petersburg City Councilman Robert Blackmon told FOX 13 he has a different issue with the beaches opening so soon.

"I'm not anti-beaches, but I am pro-families, and if we can help people get their livelihood back, that's more important than recreation," said Blackmon.

While he doesn't disagree that they should reopen, he said there should be other priorities. 

"You have to look at the economics of things," explained Blackmon. "There's a lot of families out there that are hurting right now and people who can't put food on the table and if we open restaurants, people will be able to get their livelihood because we're predominately a hospitality industry."

Pinellas County, commissioners will meet again Tuesday, where they could call for a vote to re-open the beaches.

In Sarasota County, beaches are set to re-open Monday for essential activities, but parking lots will remain closed. The county joins a growing the list of other Florida beaches like Jacksonville and Brevard County all of which have re-opened.

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