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Sunday, May 19, 2024

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Mayor: ‘This Town Could Not Fit Any More People’

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By Vince Conti

STONE HARBOR – “This town could not fit any more people.” That was the statement from Stone Harbor Mayor Judith Davies-Dunhour months after borough officials looked at the approaching summer with trepidation.  

“There was such uncertainty five months ago,” Davies-Dunhour added. 

The occasion for the mayor’s comments was the Sept. 15 Stone Harbor Borough Council meeting. The agenda was not designed around the topic of the summer crowds, but that turned out to be the focus of many of the seemingly unrelated items. 

Beach Patrol Capt. Sandy Bosacco spoke of the crowds on the beach, especially over Labor Day weekend. Expecting many of the people in town to remain longer than usual, the borough will attempt to guard some beaches as long as it can. 

Emergency Management Director Jonathan LaKose  provided an update on the hurricane season, adding, “This summer looked like summers of the past,” implying it did not look like the summer of a nationwide pandemic. 

Report after report, following a standard agenda for committee presentations, provided evidence of the same thing – a lot of people in town. 

Recreation programs that charged fees were ahead of 2019 in revenue. The demand for recreation programming for the fall is high, with efforts underway for youth and “on the beach” programs. This summer saw more participants for youth programs than in the previous year. 

Even though some programs, like a basketball league, were canceled because they could not be structured to meet health guidelines, Recreation Director Tina Prickett said, “People turned to recreation programs during the crisis.” 

Tourism Director Jenny Olson followed with a request to keep the farmer’s market open through September, and possibly into October. She said the market saw 2,400 people visit on Labor Day weekend. 

Programs are still being organized for fall because so many people in town are not leaving. 

What is happening is a major change in the rhythms of the summer. In a borough, like Stone Harbor, where 85% of the homes are owned by individuals who are not permanent residents, property owners from urban or near-urban areas decided early to use their vacation homes as the place to wait out the virus. Daily reports of relatively modest infection levels in the county also serve as an attraction. 

Even the annual return to permanent homes before school starts did not happen for many this year. School districts across the state and the region are offering, if not requiring, remote instruction options. 

The tonnage of trash collected increased, water usage threatened to surpass the state-mandated allocation levels, and an active real estate market for purchase and rentals are further signs of activity no one expected at the start of the summer. 

Amid it all are pandemic-induced business losses. 

Each community in the county will have taken a different path through the summer of COVID-19. 

In an affluent community, like Stone Harbor, with a large number of second home property owners, that path put people in the town in large numbers. 

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com. 

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