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Lake Geneva beach to open after city official resigns in reaction to decision

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LAKE GENEVA (WKOW) - Lake Geneva's popular Riviera Beach will open Saturday but without its longtime city beach supervisor, who resigned over concerns about the potential spread of the coronavirus.

The beach opening during the Memorial Day weekend comes after a 4-3 city council vote approving the move.

George Steffen had supervised the acre of beach since the 1980s.

"He emotionally gave his resignation due to the COVID-19 pandemic and that was only reason," Lake Geneva Harbormaster Linda Frame says.

In his resignation letter, Steffen said staying on would be giving his "stamp of approval" to the beach opening.

"I don't feel it is morally right to put the beach workers, the lifeguards, the beach managers, and the beach patrons at risk," Steffen wrote. He declined additional comment when contacted by 27 News.

"I thought it was too early (to open)," says City Councilperson John Halverson, who voted in dissent. "In a couple of weeks, we should have the benefit of the knowledge of fifty states opening," Halverson says.

Cindy Flower was one of the councilpersons to approve the beach opening. "It was a difficult decision," she says. But Flower says health safeguards will be in place.

Riviera Beach can hold more than seven hundred people. But councilmembers limited capacity to 302 to promote social distancing.

Frame Friday directed city beach staff members as they affixed signs on social distancing, sanitation, and other procedures to the beach entrance building. Tape marked off positions at least six feet apart in what will be the waiting line to enter the beach property Saturday.

Frame says she's confident in the safety preparation but declines to offer any perspective on the beach-opening decision.

"Whether I have reservations or not, I have a job," Frame says. "It was voted to open the beach, and as harbormaster, that's my job, to make sure the staff is safe, to make sure the public is safe," she says.

Former Wisconsin Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett is president of VISIT Lake Geneva. Klett says she respects Steffen's position but believes extension preparation of Rivieria Beach and staff training make the opening a welcome, safe event for the city and region so dependent on tourism dollars.

"What we're saying is, 'We want you here, we're ready for you here,' " Klett says.

Halverson says the beach will close Tuesday, May 26 for the week and then reopen. He says the pause will give city leaders a chance to review the holiday weekend operation.

Sarah Kerr of Rockford strolled the busy, beachside streets Friday with her teenage daughter and friends. Kerr says on balance, she feels Lake Geneva's decision to open Riviera Beach was the right one.

"It's outside, it's beautiful, just be careful, be sensible," Kerr says of beachgoing. "I would go."

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Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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