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What’s a beach? Task Force working on shoreline issues

What’s a beach? Most would answer the question simply as a place where you swim. But as the Shoreline Access Task Force is discovering, it’s not that easy.

For an Island surrounded by water with multiple access areas to shorelines where families have been swimming for generations, the Town Code defines beach as a site where lifeguards are assigned and bathrooms are provided.

That means only Crescent and Wades are considered beaches.

Before discussing specific water access points in terms of uses, maintenance needs and upgrades, task force members heard from colleague Al Loreto about practices in place in Southampton and similar actions in Southold.

“The towns around us are being proactive” in terms of limiting beach access for the 2021 summer, shutting down use of beaches to non-residents or strictly limiting how many day passes would be issued.

It’s a subject the Town Board has discussed without resolution. In recent years, day passes have been sold, bringing revenue to the town. But to avoid the town’s two official beaches being overrun with visitors from other East End towns that have shut or sharply curtailed use of their beaches to nonresidents, there’s consideration of putting some limits on beach use here.

On Shelter Island, those who own or rent have access, but so do visitors staying at Island hotels, inns or B&Bs. Those places have a number of beach passes to share with their guests. Add to that, the possibility of day passes that have gone to those applying for them on a first-come first-served basis, and a decision will have to be made with spring and summer approaching.

A related issue is what the task force might recommend about the possibility of requiring permits for use of boat ramps.

Members outlined initial inspections of 10 water access sites, identifying uses, needs and problems to be addressed.

The sites visited so far are Carousel Lane, Reel Point, Section 9, Congdon Creek, the west terminus at Crab Creek Road, Dawn Lane, South Ferry Hills, Daniel Lord Road, Oak Road and Menhaden Lane. Two on the list assigned for a visit by Town Engineer Joe Finora — Bootleggers Alley and Hiberry Lane — will be visited in advance of the next meeting.

Among the observations that were typical at many sites were limited parking and, in some cases, nearby parking that people have used that posed safety problems. All sites are being inspected to ensure there’s access for emergency vehicles.

Each site was inspected for utilities, the presence of trash receptacles and, because many are areas where dog owners walk their pets, the presence of bags to pick up after their animals.

In a few cases, there are calls for repairs or replacements of bulkheads, docks or ramps.

In the next several weeks, task force members will be visiting a number of additional sites, including Burns Road, Crescent and Wades beaches, Shell Beach, Fresh Pond, Orient Lane and Winthrop Road at Cobbetts Lane.

Stakeholders — those who live in areas where there are concerns about water access sites — have shown a concentrated interest in the work of the task force and are afforded opportunities at the end of each session to comment or raise questions.

Bootleggers Alley was the focus of problems last summer because of people fishing there and leaving debris and causing problems for neighbors. It got a temporary fix with trash receptacles and a Port-A-Potty, increased police patrols and restricted parking, but neighbors want assurance the Port-A-Potty was a temporary fix. There’s also the issue there and at some other sites for improved signage to delineate private and public properties.

Typical of such discussions are questions about the Nicolls Patent that affects where private waterfront property ends and the public has a right to walk or relax by the shore. That will involve more investigation.

Another public question was if some water access sites should be available only to Island residents.

The aim of the Town Board in creating the task force has been to make decisions about all water access sites. Supervisor Gerry Siller has said he hopes that some of the most troublesome sites can be inspected and changes made this year, possibly in advance of the summer season.

The committee meets monthly and because of the ongoing pandemic, meetings are virtual. Anyone who wishes can contact Beau Payne at [email protected] to request Zoom access.