The topic at Tuesday’s Town Board work session was the Island’s shorelines.
Councilman Mike Bebon has drafted a detailed document, which looks like a piece of legislation in its scope and attention to specific issues, to allow the board to come to some resolution on public access to beaches and town-owned landings.
Sparked by the controversy of off-Island visitors crowding parking spots and the beach at Bootleggers Alley, and drawing the ire of residents about unsuitable conditions, the board has been debating public access since the spring.
The board already has new rules for parking on Bootleggers Alley, instituted by executive order that the state has granted municipalities during the pandemic. But the board wants to codify the rules by a voted resolution so, if the governor rescinds the emergency declaration, the parking regulations will be intact. It also seeks to regulate beaches and landings townwide.
Mr. Bebon’s document begins by stating that the town’s beaches are guided by “a public trust benefit,” that allows residents and visitors access to beaches, under certain conditions. The law on access is as ancient as it is vague in its particulars. The document states: “The public trust doctrine is the principle that the sovereign [the government] holds in trust for public use some resources, such as shoreline between the high and low tide lines, regardless of private property ownership. The doctrine has its roots in Roman Law and English Common Law. There is not a directly applicable federal or state law; definition of various aspects of the doctrine having been understood mainly through evolving case law.”
There is no equivocation on the public’s rights to be on beaches, or that the municipality must “Protect, maintain, and increase the level and types of access to public water-related recreation resources and facilities.”
In short, most municipalities agree that the public has a right of access and be on beaches below the median high-tide line. The town is in the process of surveying and marking that demarcation at bootleggers Alley.
In Mr. Bebon’s document, public safety and the health and security of residents and visitors is paramount, as well as the health of the environment. But the board agreed that in any law should be the statement that residents “should have equal, or greater, opportunity to access particular areas,” compared to visitors.
“We don’t want residents crowded out,” Mr. Bebon said.
Cleaning up the beaches is the town’s responsibility, Mr. Bebon suggested, and visitors should pay for beach parking stickers, with the fees going toward employing someone to clean beaches.
Craig Wood, chairman of the Board of Assessors, spoke as a private citizen, suggesting that a community-wide effort be made to emphasize that the Island must be “a carry in, carry out” community, meaning people leave nothing behind when they go.
On the concerns of people sleeping in vehicles overnight access beaches in the morning, Mr. Bebon suggested that the town employ an East Hampton ordinance that states that sleeping in a vehicle is the same as camping, and is restricted.
For those who want to have a fire on the beach, Mr. Bebon said this was open for discussion: from outright banning of fires, to granting permits, which would deny them if they are set within 50 feet of private property, there is a drought in effect, or high winds are forecast on the day of the permit.
Several times the discussion circled back to what “access” to beaches means. In short, as the document states: “Access to our shoreline areas should be made available to our residents, visitors and guests, but be balanced with the need to protect cultural and natural resources and the ecosystem.”
Asked after the meeting by the Reporter what the word “cultural” meant in the statement, Mr. Bebon said, “My understanding of ‘cultural resources’ are buildings, other structures and natural or human-created features with historical significance. While it many not be applicable, I added it because I’m not completely familiar with the Island’s entire shoreline.”
Mr. Bebon said the document “is meant to get us started,” and will be discussed at forthcoming meetings.
The issue of shorelines was also on the agenda in the form of boat storage on town beaches and moorings in Island waters. The town wants to get a handle on regulating the issue fairly. Chief Read and Bay Constable Peter Vielbig outlined some new procedures. There are 256 permits issued by the town for storing boats at beaches. The town has stopped issuing storage permits at Wades Beach because of overcrowding. There will be weekly checks to see that boats stored are in compliance. Boats not in compliance will be impounded. Eight boats have been impounded so far this summer.
Only two permits per household will be issued, and the permits are good for two years. Boats stored on trailers are banned.
All of the 800 moorings permitted by the town will be inspected for identification and their condition, and recorded by latitude and longitude.
At Congdons Creek dock, there are 38 active slips, Mr. Vielbig reported, and 34 are used and well maintained. Those who have permits for slips but are not using them should inform the town clerk. There are more than 100 people waiting for a slip somewhere on the Island.
An Island boating brochure will be updated, distributed throughout the town and provided to every boater who bay constables come in contact with.
Business on town beaches was also discussed. A franchise renting out vessels with a permit to operate at Crescent Beach, was recently discovered operating at West Neck Harbor as well, which Chief Read said, “Was a risk to everyone.”
Clear guidelines were called for, and a more specific permitting process instituted.