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No lifeguards for Treasure Shores

(Week of September 30, 2010)

Starting this weekend, Treasure Shores Beach Park will go unguarded.

The county’s northernmost beach park – recently named the second best beach in the state -- will be without lifeguards for the first time since 1991 after the County Commission voted 3-2 to eliminate $119,000 from the recreation budget and cut two positions starting Oct. 1 as part of $15 million in budget cuts this year to avoid raising taxes.

The decision to eliminate the lifeguards easily drew the most sound and fury from citizens at the budget hearings with no one -- excepting commissioners Gary Wheeler, Bob Solari and Wesley Davis and County Administrator Joe Baird -- speaking in favor of the necessity to remove the lifeguards. Last year, there were 13 rescues at the beach.

To those in favor of keeping the lifeguards, the decision was short-sighted. They predict tragedy.

To the three commissioners who voted to accept Baird’s recommendation of the reduction, people need to take personal responsibility and understand they have the choice of using seven other beach parks between the county and city of Vero Beach that will have lifeguards on duty.

“The bottom line is the number one way to prevent a drowning is to swim at a guarded beach and the statistics show that,” said beachside resident and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Peter Wernicki, who for the last 20 years has served as the medical advisor for the U.S. Lifesaving Association. “You are essentially asking for disaster.”

Wernicki points to a USLA statistic that there is a 1 in 18 million chance of drowning at a guarded beach. To him it is an easy choice as a doctor and a former lifeguard who has stayed intimately involved with the profession.

Officials point to the fact that the locals and tourists are still left with other choices to enjoy county beaches and the protection lifeguards provide.

“It was an evaluation we had to make when we looked at the whole budget,” Baird said. “It’s unfortunate, but we have made cuts everywhere. And the people have other options, there are other guarded beaches they can visit, there are four other beaches in the county and three in Vero Beach. You have to remember that 99 percent of the county residents that go to Treasure Shores have to go by a guarded beach to get there.”