EMERALD ISLE — After some town residents saw crowds they said were ignoring social distancing directives on the beach and in local stores this weekend, a petition popped up Sunday night on change.org to address the issue in the face of the spread of the novel coronavirus.
As of mid-afternoon Tuesday, 278 people has signed the petition, with a goal of 500.The original goal was 100.
“The influx of visitors to the island this weekend is disheartening,” the petition states. “The lack of social distancing is overwhelming. We need to stop this behavior now. The (high-rise bridge) must be closed to nonessential personnel immediately.”
Emerald Isle has a state of emergency in place, has closed its public beach access parking lots and public parks and has directed motels, condominiums and campgrounds not to accept short-term rentals through Thursday, April 29.
Officials also have urged residents and business owners to follow the directives of Gov. Roy Cooper’s statewide stay-at-home order.
Petition signers, who don’t have to be town residents, don’t believe the measures have been enough.
One petition supporter is Debbie Golden, who lives near Cape Carteret and cleans rental units on Bogue Banks.
“I was working Saturday and I was astounded” at the crowds of people so close together on the beach, “as far as the eye could see in both directions,” she said in an interview Monday.
She added that with Emerald Isle’s beach access parking lots closed, visitors over the weekend were parking at grocery stores and walking across Highway 58 to get to the beach, which is still open.
They also reportedly parked in and filled up vacant lots on Islander Drive, which leads to the Western Ocean Regional Access, she said.
“I just don’t know what these people are thinking,” Ms. Golden said. “They’re in the grocery stores filling up their carts with things the local people need. And our hospital is so tiny. We just don’t have the means here to sustain all these additional people.”
Of the 100 North Carolina counties, only Dare and Hyde have taken steps to ban out-of-county visitors.
The sentiment to restrict access to the Emerald Isle bridge is not unanimous, however. On the town’s Facebook page, one resident wrote
“Closing … will be a disaster for the elderly. The reasons are obvious, drugs, banking, services to … equipment. Don't get carried away with this.”
Others expressed similar sentiments.
At any rate, Emerald Isle Town Manager Matt Zapp, said the bridge was state-maintained.
“NC 58 and the associated bridge that lead to Emerald Isle are state maintained.” he wrote. “Thus, any additional closures or restrictions will come in concert with the state and county.”
He reiterated that Carteret County and the town have “have released public statements to discourage tourist travel to the Crystal Coast, via mandatory restrictions on short-term rentals through April 29, 2020. For a community anchored in hospitality, this is a very difficult message to send and share.”
The town, however, has posted “Stay Home” on the electronic N.C. Department of Transportation sign on the mainland side of the high-rise bridge between Emerald Isle and Cape Carteret.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.