Ditch Dilemma

A proposal to pave the eastern parking area at Ditch Plain in Montauk brought an outpouring of emotion to East Hampton’s Town Hall on Tuesday. Surfers and others who enjoy the ambience of the rutted, gravel-and-sand patch known as Dirt Lot were vigorous in opposition. But officials are in a bind: Conditions there at peak times are unacceptable. 

When the surf is good, notably during hurricane season, Dirt Lot and its entry road are lined with vehicles parked every which way because there are no markings or directional signs. Late arrivals queue up all the way to DeForest Road, making quick access for police or emergency medical personnel almost impossible. If this section of beach is to remain open to the public, this cannot be allowed to continue. Public safety must be the town’s top priority, followed by environmental considerations.

Many residents and nonresident parking permit holders would like to see Dirt Lot remain as it is, but that is just not possible given its heavy use in season. Closing it off to vehicles and allowing the site to revert to nature would not be an alternative because that would put too much pressure on the remaining Ditch parking lots. One approach would be for the town to widen the Dirt Lot entry and designate an emergency lane with semipermanent flexible bollards. 

But the big question is whether all three parking lots at Ditch should be limited to resident permit holders on summer weekends, as has been done elsewhere. No data collection, to our knowledge, has been made to support this one way or the other, but anecdotally, the impact of residents-only parking at Indian Wells in Amagansett has been positive. At Ditch, this is an idea whose time may have come.

Among other steps the town should take to bring order to the Ditch madness is banning group surfing lessons and parking of associated surf camp support vehicles. These entities have improperly used resident parking permits to run for-profit enterprises on public property. Limiting lessons to perhaps two students at a time would also help reduce the chance of injury in the water.

In looking at all three Ditch Plain lots as a whole, the town is beginning necessary work toward a safe and better-functioning arrangement. Changes must be made, but deciding on a high-season problem during the month of March is unlikely to produce satisfactory results. Our advice is for the town to test a solution without paving Dirt Lot now and carefully monitor conditions this summer to develop a long-lasting solution.