Parking at Beaches Remains a Jumble

East Hampton Town officials, having pulled a bait-and-switch on unsuspecting buyers of nonresident beach parking permits at Ditch Plain in Montauk now need to do the right thing and waive at least the first offense of anyone ticketed for using the main lot.

Back at the beginning of the season, when many nonresident parkers plunked down $375 for a permit, access to all the spots at Ditch Plain was part of the deal. However, after a June vote, the town board jerked away that agreed-upon privilege.

Now in high season, nonresidents who pull into and park at that lot early, before a new attendant’s booth is staffed, get a rude surprise from the hard-working traffic-control officers when they return to their vehicles after surfing or walking on the beach. If they don’t want to risk a ticket, they have to jockey for a limited number of spaces off Otis Road or brave the axle-busting, potholed “Dirt Lot” to the east. Or just go home.

For years, East Hampton Town’s approach to the shore has been inconsistent and inadequate. On one hand, the town ignored multiple laws and green-lighted illegal erosion-control sandbags, which only steal beach from the public, in downtown Montauk and elsewhere, while on the other it has failed to keep up with demands from the growing resident and visitor population for access to the beaches. 

The time for the town to have purchased more property for parking at existing beaches and to open new lots, especially at the ocean, came and went long ago. Instead, the town wound up in high-crisis mode, adding late-day garbage pickup at the beaches only after unsightly heaps of trash flowed from the bins onto the ground and adding portable toilets after the county pointed out that they are required at bathing beaches. The town has also resorted to emergency methods, such as limiting the largest of the three Ditch Plain lots to residents.

Under a previous administration the town blew it big time at Ditch Plain, failing to buy the East Deck Motel property. Now, a nearby parcel is for sale that could help relieve some of the parking pressure, but no action is apparent. Meanwhile, the town trustees look the other way as a sliver of sand at Maidstone Park on Three Mile Harbor, sometimes known as Baby Beach for the shallow, safe water there, is turned into one large tailgate party.

What should be obvious is that town government has not been up to the task of adequately managing our beaches and planning for their future. A prime example is the abrupt Ditch Plain change that left many nonresident permit holders upset and feeling cheated. The town board needs to find a way to restructure how the beaches are run and planned for over the long term. 

Appointing a beach czar, along the lines of East Hampton Village, which has a capable beach manager and support staff, might in the long run, as well as the short, be the best way to go. The current hodgepodge is not fair to anyone — including the traffic-control officers who are on the front lines, dealing with upset people who try to follow the rules and just want to get to the beach.