Panels Eye For-Profit Aquatic Gatherings

The increased use of public beaches and waterways by for-hire guides and instructors has prompted the East Hampton Town Board and the town trustees to begin working on new rules. Jack Graves

    Gina Bradley, who calls herself the Paddle Diva, went before the East Hampton Town Board and the East Hampton Town Trustees on Tuesday, hoping to help shape the dialogue on commercial mass-gathering permits, specifically those for public beaches. 
    While stand-up paddleboards have become as common as driftwood on bay and ocean beaches, the Paddle Diva’s boards are the tools of a successful trade. She teaches the art of stand-up paddling and conducts tours of East Hampton waters for between 6 and 20 clients at a time from various launching spots.
    Ms. Bradley applied to the town board about a month ago for a commercial mass-gathering permit, which would allow her to operate from May through October. Although the town code permits the use of public property for food vendors via a bidding process, and allows the free use of beaches for weddings and certain other events, it requires a permit if a commercial enterprise brings five or more people together on public property. Regulations for surfing lessons, yoga instruction, and photo shoots on the beaches have not been spelled out.
    The trustees, who own most of the beaches and bottomlands in town, except in Montauk, have resisted their use for commercial purposes. Longtime local pursuits, such as beach-driving and shellfishing, are permitted by regulations jointly designed by the trustees and town board. The proliferation of recreational uses by for-profit enterprises has prompted joint discussion.
    During a town board work session Tuesday morning and at the trustees’ regular June meeting that evening, the members of each panel agreed that the goal of an updated mass-gathering permit law would be to encourage appropriate uses of East Hampton’s beaches while at the same time making sure commercial uses did not interfere with the public’s enjoyment of a common resource.
    “The uses are varied — volleyball, kite surfing, paddleboarders — it’s a tremendous task to see the public resource is not overused,” Diane McNally, the clerk, or presiding officer, of the trustees said at its meeting. “It was the catering, private businesses making money off a public resource that got us thinking.”
    “The floodgates are opening. If it’s commercial it can’t interfere with a family on a Sunday afternoon. Next year there might be 10 Paddle Divas,” Stephanie Forsberg, a trustee, said. Debbie Klughers reminded her fellow trustees of complaints they had received on one occasion when up to 20 paddleboarders virtually took over the beach at Maidstone Park.
    At the town board’s session earlier, Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc suggested that stand-up paddleboard tour guides should be accommodated but limited to particular places. Ms. Bradley told the trustees she had no problem with the town’s citing specific areas for paddleboarding, saying her clients looked for diverse locations. Although Paddle Diva is based at the Shagwong Marina on Three Mile Harbor, she said that given the  southwest winds of summer she would like the option of working from places like Landing Lane in Springs, Fresh Pond in Amagansett, and Hand’s Creek on Three Mile Harbor. The trustees’ discussion veered, at that point, to alternative ways to launch should public beaches become too crowded.
    Lynn Mendelman, one of the trustees, suggested that Paddle Diva use town launching ramps, which provide access to the bays for licensed baymen and fly-fishing and other guides. She also recommended that in the interest of safety, paddleboard guides instruct their clients on the marine rules of the road. Joe Bloecker, another trustee, recommended that guides like Ms. Bradley be licensed. The Paddle Diva liked both ideas.
    “I don’t want to run 50 people in and out. I don’t want to see any one landing get overwhelmed. I’m not overusing any one environment, and I want to offer diversity to my clients,” Ms. Bradley said.
    The trustees thanked her for sharing her concerns, while the town board gave her the go-ahead to operate for four to six weeks and then report back.
    “It may be appropriate to license these businesses in order to impose guidelines,” Councilwoman Theresa Quigley said.