County wants swimming barred at three popular spots

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Science Club students collected samples for a dragonfly study last month at Fresh Pond, a site the county would like to close for swimming.

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services has called on Shelter Island to prohibit swimming at Fresh Pond, Shell Beach and Menhaden Landing.

The sites don’t “meet the design standards for a public bathing beach as per the New York State Sanitary Code,” according to a letter sent to the town Recreation Department by Nancy Pierson of the Bureau of Marine Resources in the Division of Environmental Quality. She said they lack beach front, permanent bathroom facilities, lifeguards and other necessities required by the health code.

The letter, dated March 23, was sent after an unidentified person complained to the Health Department about the lack of facilities and sent pictures backing up the complaint.

Town Board members, discussing the letter at their Tuesday work session, said they could not imaging closing those areas to swimming. Councilman Ed Brown commented that Wades Beach would be “swamped” with swimmers if the other three locations were closed.

Town Board members said they were inclined to simply post signs saying no lifeguard is on duty at those sites and that swimming is at the person’s own risk.

“What individual is screwing the residents of this town out of their beach rights?” Councilman Peter Reich asked. Mr. Reich brought the topic up before the board by reading the letter from the county, which was addressed to former Highway Superintendent Mark Ketcham.

What action might Shelter Island Police take to enforce the county’s policy? asked resident Will Anderson from the audience.

Chief Jim Read told Mr. Anderson, “I’m not aware of any penalty” for swimming at a non-sanctioned beach. He said he would simply advise a swimmer that there was no lifeguard on duty and that the person was swimming at his own risk.

The Health Department’s Ms. Pierson told the town in the letter that it should not install any type of bathroom facility or “encourage swimming by advertising these sites. Any deliberation by the Town of Shelter Island to install port-a-johns at these locations should be reconsidered as this would encourage the use of these locations as bathing beaches.”

Allowing swimming in these areas where there are no lifeguards is “dangerous,” Ms. Pierson wrote.

The Department of Health wants the town to post a sign at the head of the dead end road that goes to Fresh Pond saying, “No Lifeguard on Duty — Swimming Prohibited.”

If the town wants to open the areas to swimming, it would have to file an application and seek Health Department approval first, Ms. Pierson said.

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