The juxtaposition could not be more stark: East Hampton Town does not take adequate care of the public bathing beaches it already has and yet town officials appear to be thinking seriously about adding more. We say, not so fast. A little housekeeping and assumption-checking needs to occur first.
A report completed earlier this month by the town’s nature preserve committee identified possible locations for a new full-service bathing beach with lifeguards, parking, and restrooms. The top choices were two sites on Napeague, one a 37-acre preserve near Dolphin Drive and the other a 6.7-acre rectangle about a half-mile to the east.
Before the town moves forward with plans to develop either of these parcels, it has some thinking to do. For starters, cleanliness is not optional. The town already appears to be in repeated violation of Suffolk health regulations that require “adequate” and “sanitary” means of storing and disposing of garbage at beaches. Overflowing trash barrels and cascading mounds of refuse left in parking lots cannot reasonably be seen as anything other than lack of compliance with the law.
At the same time, and perhaps more important, it must look dispassionately at the numbers of people using protected beaches and consider ways to do something about crowding at them. To a significant degree, the problem is not space on the sand itself, but lack of adequate parking, bike lanes, and public transportation.
East Hampton’s strands are not as constrained as they may be in other places; sunbathers can find places to stretch out away from the throngs. The town should find out whether bathers at protected beaches ever exceed the maximum number set by the County Health Department. If the answer is no, as we believe it likely to be, improving access to existing beaches is the logical move.
Although some members of the town’s lifeguard squad have expressed significant concern that crowding could drive some swimmers to more remote locations, beyond the watchful gaze of guards, the parking lots at most town beaches can be expanded, and then, if warranted, additional lifeguards assigned and restrooms put up.
As for Indian Wells in Amagansett, huge gatherings of young, beer-swilling singles on weekend afternoons have become a problem in part because of the town’s anything-goes policy on public alcohol consumption. It remains to be seen whether the town’s attempt to limit transient vehicular access there is effective.
Before the public gets behind a plan to open new ocean or bay bathing beaches, the town must demonstrate that it can adequately pick up trash and maintain order at the ones it already has. Before significant resources are spent on new beaches, the town should try to solve the obvious parking crunch and ban drinking alcohol at beaches with lifeguards. These would be less costly and much more expedient first steps.