Wary of Beach Drinking Ban

East Hampton Town beaches are among the very few on Long Island where open drinking of alcoholic beverages is tolerated

    The East Hampton Town Trustees’ concern about a possible alcohol ban at some ocean beaches should not be allowed to derail it. They own most of the beaches and should have been included in the discussions so far, but there is still time to join the conversation.

    High-season weekend crowds at Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett have reached a point of beer-drenched popularity that makes many residents uncomfortable and members of the lifeguard corps worried. The time has come do something about it, regrettably perhaps for those who remember how things used to be.

    Under present rules, East Hampton Town beaches are among the very few on Long Island where open drinking of alcoholic beverages is tolerated. For the past few years, this has helped give rise to huge, if informal, gatherings that have to be seen to be believed. And seen them we have.

    On several visits in the last two years we watched as hundreds of young adult visitors gathered at Indian Wells to socialize, play Frisbee and volleyball, and drink themselves into a warm, happy glow. During one visit, we watched an impromptu drinking game that involved men throwing full cans of beer from the beach to others in the water. By evening, Bud Light cans (the beer of choice for some reason) littered the sand or were piled with their empty packaging at the overflowing trash cans. Family friendly, Indian Wells is no longer. This repeats over and over until Labor Day, and has disturbed many regulars who are now looking for other places to go.

    In response, East Hampton Town officials have been working on what amount to half-measures, changing traffic routes, attempting to block taxis and buses from getting close to the beach, and adding parking. But these steps miss the central problem: Given a place to gather and drink themselves silly, some people are just going to do it, even if they have to walk to get there.

    The East Hampton Town Board has hoped to hold a hearing to gauge public opinion on prohibiting alcohol at beaches where and when lifeguards are present — or a variation on that theme. Giving law enforcement the ability to issue tickets for violations would go a long way to tamping down the party, but new rules cannot be put in place at Indian Wells or Atlantic Avenue Beach nearby without the trustees’ consent.

    This is a reasonable proposal. In East Hampton Village, among others, alcohol is banned at all times in public spaces, including the beaches. The trustees appear cool to the idea, fearing, as their elected clerk, Diane McNally, put it, a domino effect at other beaches.

    Ms. McNally is, of course, correct that further bans might follow, but that does not make the concept wrong. On the contrary: Large crowds, water, and alcohol do not safely mix. Confining drinking to the evening hours and beaches where lifeguards are not present would appear to be good policy. And, unless a better alternative can be found, the trustees should at least agree to a trial period.