Marco City Council votes to close Caxambas boat ramp but keeps beaches, hotels open
Marco Island City Council passed a motion Tuesday to request Collier County to close the Caxambas Park boat ramp amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The recommendation to close the park came from City Manager Mike McNees after receiving reports of sizable gatherings in the area.
"We are aware it has become a popular spot for folks to come over from Miami-Dade and Broward to put their boats in the water," he said. "The county has agreed to limit that access at this facility already."
Councilor Victor Rios, who was the only one to vote against the motion, said small business owners, like fishing guides, make a living using the park's boat ramp.
"If we were to close the ramp, we are putting people that [...] depend on this for a livelihood out of business," he said. "We are allowing people for recreational (purposes) at the beach but for the people that are working for a living we are going to close it."
"You have got to be kidding me."
The county confirmed the closure in a news release sent Tuesday.
"At the request of the Marco Island City Council, Caxambas Park, 909 Collier Court, Marco Island, FL 34145, will be closed from April 1, 2020, through April 30, 2020," as stated in the release.
The park's fueling station is still open for boats on the water, according to the city.
In a 5-2 vote, City Council passed a motion directing city staff to calculate the amount of people going to the beach and the number of police interventions. City staff would have to provide the information at the council meeting on April 6.
Marco Island Police Chief Tracy L. Frazzano said beach goers have been very compliant after speaking with police officers.
"When we go out on to the beach we make sure the social distancing is in effect," she said. "We have stopped people, talked to them, separated them."
Social distancing means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining distance, approximately six feet or two meters, from others when possible, according to CDC's website.
There were 200 people on the beach in Marco Island on Tuesday, Frazzano said.
"When you think about 200 people over the span of what our entire beach is that is really not a lot of people at all," she said.
The county closed parking lots and beach access points at Tigertail Beach and South Beach. Following the county's lead, the city closed its public beach access by Madeira and Crystal Shores on March 19.
"Closing public access points does not keep all citizens or residents off the beach," according to a news release sent earlier that day. "What it does accomplish is limiting the number of beach goers which is consistent with the public health guidelines regarding social distancing and mass gathering."
Rios said this policy allows beach property owners and hotel guests to use the beach while limiting access to other residents.
"We are creating two classes of citizens: those that can go to the beach and those that can't go to the beach," he said. "I think it's creating a division in the city."
Jared Grifoni, vice-chair of City Council, said it is "totally incorrect" to say that the city's decision to close public beach access points resulted in the creation of two classes.
"The city took action to prevent public access to the beach, [...] that applies to every single member of the public," he said. Residents of Marco Island had access to the beach through a private organization which was the Marco Island Civic Association."
"Actually, it wasn't until MICA closed their pedestrian and parking lot access that Marco Island citizens who did not live on the beach had no private access."
Grifoni asked McNees what made the association close its private access to Residents' Beach on March 20.
"The catalyst was me," McNees said. "The objective at the time was to reduce the crowds."
McNees said he reached out to the association to ask them to close the parking lot of Residents' Beach but that it was them who decided to close the pedestrian access.
"Ultimately they decided to close the pedestrian access," he said.
Coucilors Rios and Sam Young said they wanted the beaches closed to everybody, including beach property owners and hotel guests. Rios said he was concerned that non-residents would come to the island in droves as cities and counties in the state continue to close beaches.
Erik Brechnitz, council chairperson, suggested allowing people to access the beach only for walking and jogging by prohibiting beach chairs and umbrellas. On the other hand, Grifoni suggested only allowing residents on the beach by asking for people's identification.
Rios said this would mean more work for police officers. "I think it imposes an undue burden on our police officers," he said.
In case you missed it: Coronavirus: What's closed on Marco Island?
Hotel occupancy rates
Chief Frazzano said police officers are going every other day to check the hotels' occupancy rate in Marco Island. "The occupancy levels are ranging from four percent to [...] 40 percent capacity for the hotels on the island," she said.
JW Marriott Beach Resort has 35 occupied rooms out of 809, she said, and Hilton Beach Resort and Spa has guests in 28 rooms.
The Club Regency, which is a smaller hotel, has 13 occupied rooms out of 32, an 40.6 percent occupancy rate, according to Frazzano.
A Hilton spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for JW Marriott wrote she did not have the the hotel's occupancy rate numbers.
"I wish that I could provide you with this information at this time, but I do not have any updates!" she wrote in an email on March 27. "I will share any information requested with you once I receive it from our team."
Frazzano said hotels like Marco Beach Vacation Suites, Olde Marco Island Inn & Suites and Marco Island Lakeside Inn shut down completely.
City Council passed a motion not to close the hotels on the island.
Traffic coming into the island: It seems like low season
Chief Frazzano said police are using technology to monitor the amount of cars coming into the island through the Jolley Bridge.
As of yesterday [...], there was about 9,000 vehicles that came over the Jolley Bridge onto Marco Island," she said. "Compared to 2018, which was the last time we had the statistical data, this time in 2018 it was 19,000."
Frazzano said about 9,000 vehicles passed daily through the bridge in June 2018. "I don't think we have as many visitors as we normally have during this time of year," she said.
City Council unanimously passed motions to keep the bridge open as well as the city parks' open spaces. Another motion was passed unanimously to not issue an order to shelter-in-place.
Omar Rodríguez Ortiz is a community reporter for Naples Daily News and Marco Eagle. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram as @Omar_fromPR, and on Facebook. Support his work by subscribing to Naples Daily News.