A plan to improve public safety by better controlling traffic and crowds at Indian Wells Beach was presented to the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee at its meeting Monday night.
Armed with the current draft proposal, Capt. Michael Sarlo of the East Hampton Town Police Department addressed committee members as to the concerted effort to limit idling cars and nonresidents’ vehicular access, as well as to police the hundreds-strong gatherings for which the beach has become infamous.
As previously reported here, a committee including Captain Sarlo, East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, Chief Edward Ecker of the Town Police Department, Ed Michels, the town harbormaster, John Rooney, the superintendent of recreation, John Ryan Jr., the town’s chief lifeguard, and Robert Connelly, an assistant town attorney, has been working to address a situation residents say has deteriorated in recent years, affecting safety and quality of life.
An earlier plan, to place an attended barrier at the intersection of Indian Wells Highway and Bluff Road, has been abandoned, Captain Sarlo told the committee. “That created too many issues of safety,” he said, including backed-up traffic and vehicles standing for long periods. “It had a good idea in general, but once you piece together how much foot traffic and bike traffic. . . . It’s creating a different safety hazard instead of solving the issue.”
The new plan, while still a work in progress, would create a restricted access point near the entrance to the parking lot. On weekends and holidays, a Parks Department employee would man a booth at a turnaround opposite the Amagansett Beach Association parking lot. When the town lot is full, Captain Sarlo said, the attendant will check vehicles for a resident permit. “If they do have a permit and are looking to drop off, we can let them through, and back out. If they don’t, we’re looking to turn them around in the mini cul-de-sac and send them back out down the street.”
A traffic control officer would be stationed in the parking lot during the peak hours of midday, along with a part-time marine patrol officer. If possible, Captain Sarlo said, the attendant and traffic control officer would work in concert to make sure motorists allowed into the lot after it’s full were dropping off or picking up beachgoers, not idling or searching for a parking spot.
Town attorneys are looking into the feasibility of banning vehicles carrying more than eight people, primarily taxis, said Captain Sarlo. The goal, he said, is to make the lot safer for beachgoers as they walk to the ice cream truck or the comfort station, and to eliminate idling vehicles at the road end.
The plan would result in the elimination of three parking spaces, but clearing dead and dying underbrush behind the comfort station could create five new spaces, which would be for the use of lifeguards. Long-term planning may also include creation of additional parking on the west side of Indian Wells Highway, north of the existing spaces.
The task is not an easy one, Captain Sarlo said, involving as it does multiple “moving parts” — adjacent wetlands, a roadway that may not be wide enough to accommodate the proposed turnaround, and the possible relocation of vendors, to whom the town has contractual obligations. “There’s a lot of obstacles to making significant changes in this small an area,” he said.
In addition to improved safety, the committee is trying to balance regulation of already-restricted parking with allowance of fair access to the beach. “The balancing act we end up with in trying to address this is tricky, but we are working diligently on it,” he said.
With regard to the large crowds drinking alcohol on the beach, Captain Sarlo reported progress. “From an enforcement standpoint, we feel like we’ve made great strides in our presence there to handle the influx of the partyers,” he said, citing summonses written, leaflets distributed, and public relations outreach. “We’re doing what we feel is everything we can, and if we get out in front of it earlier in the season than last year, it really should help put a dent in it even further.”