Time Has Come For Beach Driving Review

By rough count, 30,000 active beach driving permits have been issued to East Hampton Town residents. This is an astonishing number but more easily understood if you consider that old red-and-white stickers are valid until a truck is sold, same as with beach parking permits. In practice, nothing stops a resident from passing on a vehicle to someone from away, and because nonresident beach driving permits are priced at $275, some purchasers may just leave one on the bumper when a vehicle changes hands as a little deal-sweetener.

Supervisor Larry Cantwell and other town board members said recently that they are interested in changing the law so that resident four-wheeler permits are renewed annually instead of not at all. Carole Brennan, the town clerk, has told them it would not be a problem for her office, which already handles yearly landfill, nonresident beach parking, and shellfish permits.

Mr. Cantwell would also like to limit beach driving permits to vehicles that can actually drive on the beach. The Mercedes sport utility vehicle, for example, with a four-wheel sticker inexplicably on the rear comes to mind. Were this to be the rule it might help cut down on the beach parking (as opposed to driving) that is popular among some permit holders but irritating to others — for example, on a small spit of hard sand inside the mouth of Three Mile Harbor.

Predictably, at least one or two East Hampton Town trustees have balked. Trustee Diane McNally told the town board last week that requiring residents to renew beach driving permits annually would be a slide down a slippery slope toward access restrictions. It is difficult to see how annual permits would do that, and sensible regulations, such as making sure that permits are issued to those who deserve them, might actually head off conflicts that could lead to actual losses.

An agreement between Town Hall and the trustees should be reached, as having separate sets of rules and fees for trustee beaches and the town beaches in Montauk, where the trustees do not have jurisdiction, would be confusing. Things are already tangled enough what with a separate permit needed for trucks on county and state beaches. Moreover, the trustees have never been terribly interested in opening a permit office of their own, rightly preferring to keep permits centralized in the town clerk’s office.

As the conversation between the boards, and perhaps with East Hampton Village officials as well, goes on, one other thing should be considered: Nonresident permits for beach parking lots cost $375, $100 more than a permit to leave one’s truck tracks all over the beach. At the very least, the fee should be the same. Otherwise, officials are giving people who do not live in town an incentive to use the beaches themselves for parking, which was not the intent in the original laws and agreements going back centuries that were supposed to assure access for the townspeople alone for fishing, gathering seaweed, and to spread their nets to dry.