The out of town fishermen begin to arrive at the beach west of the Shinnecock Canal near Bayview Avenue in Hampton Bays just before 9 p.m., and by the time morning comes, they have left behind a filthy, smelly, fly blown landscape littered with fish hooks and diapers, residents complained.
Gail Murcott of the Hampton Groves Beach Association appeared before the Southampton Town Board on July 28, begging for relief. The beach has been “totally inundated” with people fishing and sleeping in tents overnight — entire families staying overnight, bringing children, and having meals on the beach.
“We’ve called the cops on many occasions,” Ms. Murcott said.
The police show up.
“The response has been fantastic,” Ms. Murcott said, noting that they clear the area. But, as soon as police leave, “five minutes later, everybody’s back. They’re there all night long, they sleep on the beach.”
As responding enforcement shoos large groups of out of town fishermen from one beach in Southampton Town, they simply move to another, officials agreed during a July 16 work session discussion on addressing what are known as “road end beaches “ — small bay beaches throughout the town. The COVID-19 crisis and ensuing beach closures in the city sent people, particularly fishermen, seeking opportunities for outdoor recreation, east to Southampton bay beaches.
Reacting to crowds swelling the shoreline, eschewing social distancing mandates and leaving behind fish guts and garbage, in May, after a beach in North Sea had to be closed by police one night, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman issued executive orders restricting parking for a certain distance alongside road end beaches to residents only.
There’s a smartphone app that told people where the fish were biting, Mr. Schneiderman explained during the July 16 work session. “Five hundred people showed up at North Sea Beach, almost all from Queens,” he recalled. “We were overwhelmed and shut it down.”
Working in coordination with the Southampton Town Police, Trustees, Bay Constables and the town emergency management administrator, the supervisor crafted an executive order calling for parking at road ends restricted to residents only.
In some cases, it proved to ameliorate the problem, but in others, not so much.
In the case of Hamptons Grove, signage appears to allow the inundation. Rather than restrict parking 24/7 to residents in accordance with the executive order, signs alongside the Shinnecock Canal in the area restrict parking from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“It sounds like the signage is incorrect,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “We need to fix that.”
Fixing issues at road end beaches townwide was the aim of the July 16 discussion. Mr. Schneiderman explained that, after he issued the executive order, he heard from a lot of people that they liked the resident only parking.
He emphasized the restrictions were not in place to create exclusive beaches. Rather, they were ordered because, in some places, enforcing social distance regulations became untenable.
“Those restrictions were there, because the town felt the need to limit the number of people on the beach,” he said.
It only made sense, that if the number of people at the beach was to be restricted, taxpayers should be given priority access.
Joining the discussion, Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki said that while the executive order was enacted to limit the number of people on the beach due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the road end beaches were never designed for long-term, all day usage.
People were spending entire days — or nights — at the road end beaches, even though there were no restrooms, leaving garbage and excrement along the shoreline creating a public health hazard beyond the COVID-19.
The chief noted that a lot of the road end beaches were designed to allow firefighters access to the water. Keeping the narrow roadways clear of excessive parked cars is a secondary concern.
“A number of things came into play here, when the police department decided we had to do something to correct the overcrowding on the beaches and the overcrowded parking situations on those road end streets,” Chief Skrynecki said.
Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni said he’d reach out to area fire departments to discern which road ends are still firefighting priorities.
Tom Neely, the town director of traffic safety and intermodal transportation, laid out a strategy for taking a comprehensive look at the town’s road end beaches.
There are over 150 of them, Councilwoman Julie Lofstad pointed out. One size fits all regulations wouldn’t work, she asserted.
Mr. Schneiderman emphasized that some of the road end beaches were never a problem until the pandemic occurred “and may never be a problem again” once the crisis lifts. Officials need to take care not to create a permanent solution to a temporary problem, he said. The plan is to “drill down” on each road and bring forward a set of recommendations.
Any proposal would be subject to public hearing.
As a temporary measure, Mr. Neely suggested extending the season for permitted parking beyond September 15 to October 31. He also said the Town Board could enact certain regulations now, but emphasize their temporary nature within resolutions of adoption.
There’s currently a mix of regulations related to roads and parking. He listed a number of different roads and their regulations — some traditional and others where the emergency orders were posted.
“I’ve been dealing with parking issues quite a while here in the town, and roads like Sebonac Inlet, North Sea Road — the ones that didn’t have any regulations — they’ve never had an issue with parking up until this crisis,” he said.
A number of the roads “were never on the radar screens,” he added.
As the town assesses each road end, Ms. Lofstad said county properties, such as the inlet and along the canal need to be analyzed. “There are issues as well,” she said.
Mr. Schiavoni said officials need to take care making decisions. He said there have been controversies between people who live near the road ends and upland residents who deserve access to the water. Mr. Neely recalled contentious public hearings that went on for four and five hours “over a couple hundred feet of restrictions on road ends.”
There are some communities that, over time, have come to believe — “in truth or not” — their rights to access take priority, Councilman John Bouvier said.
He suggested the town’s legal department may need to review deeded access. Mr. Schiavoni emphasized that use of certain road end beaches by town residents has been a source of contention with people living near the beaches.
Mr. Schneiderman offered that immediate neighbors to some road end beaches generally want less use by outsiders, but, he said, “We have to think more broadly about all town residents.”
While the sentiment of neighboring property owners should be considered, “We shouldn’t necessarily cater to that,” he said.
Councilman Rick Martel met with residents in Hampton Bays and has visited most beaches. East Landing and West Landing were the most impacted roads. There are safety issues on East Landing Road, he said. A 50-foot setback from the beach is mostly for use by emergency and fire vehicles, he noted, and “with the size of the vehicles we use now it’s actually difficult to turn something around in that 50-foot radius.” He suggested going to a 90- or 100-foot setback from the beach before parking is allowed. He pointed out that on narrow roads, safety is an issue.
“Even with the permitting, the roads were very busy this season,” he said.
“There is no one brush stroke for this, we need to really take a look at every one of the road ends individually,” Mr. Martel summarized.
Mr. Schneiderman concurred, “These are not going to be easy decisions to make.”