Unnecessary Conflict About Beach Drinking

The East Hampton Town Trustees have opposed the restriction strenuously

Responding to several years of complaints about spring break-style crowds at Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett, the East Hampton Town Board has floated a prohibition on alcohol use there and at Atlantic Avenue during the hours that lifeguards are present. This is a reasonable response to the informal, if densely packed, gatherings that have left some longtime beachgoers disgusted and no longer comfortable at Indian Wells.

The East Hampton Town Trustees, who share regulatory power over most town beaches, have opposed the restriction strenuously, offering an alternative that would, apparently by design, be the equivalent of no ban at all. Some of the trustees, as well as others, are expected to speak at a hearing on the concept tonight at Town Hall. It will be interesting to hear what all sides have to say.

The width of the no-alcohol zone that the East Hampton Town Board has proposed, 1,500 feet in both directions from the road ends, is considerable. This is roughly the distance from Hook Mill to the Chase Bank in East Hampton Village, or, in Amagansett, from the Catholic church to the firehouse. Applied at Atlantic Avenue and Indian Wells, the spans would effectively leave only a remote strip between the Amagansett National Wildlife Refuge and Atlantic Double Dunes Preserve open to daytime drinking.

Five hundred feet, as the trustees proposed only for Indian Wells, would not deter the weekend party crowd, many of whom already walk to the beach from downtown Amagansett or their share houses along the lanes, 24-packs of beer on their shoulders. And, keeping things the way they are at Atlantic Avenue with no restrictions would be likely to move the party there. One aspect of the trustees’ position is worthwhile: imposing the ban only on weekends and federal holidays. If practical, this would both ease enforcement demands and allow beachgoers to have a daytime drink of beer, wine, or hard liquor on relatively quiet weekdays.

Throughout all this, Montauk has been absent from the discussion. East Hampton Village and Southampton Town and Village prohibit drinking at beaches, so if and when the party is shut down in Amagansett, the already put-upon easternmost community would be likely to absorb the flow. Downtown Montauk’s beachfront is easy walking distance from free public parking, making it an obvious second choice for weekend throngs, as if it were not packed enough already. It would make sense to test a daytime alcohol ban there. On the other hand, Ditch Plain and Gin Beach are remote enough and parking is so limited that it might be sensible to allow the current policy to continue for the time being.

It must be said that it is not at all clear just exactly whom the trustees believe they are representing in opposing alcohol restrictions. They should need no reminding that they were elected to make policy based on the interests and desires of the community as a whole, not solely to advance their interpretation of a somewhat ephemeral sense of tradition. Whether the trustees like it or not, times have changed, and the management of public resources, including the beaches, must be continually and dispassionately rethought as demands increase.