“You know the old predicament where it’s gorgeous beach weather, but you just want to post up at a bar and drink? There’s a little secret hidden in Amagansett that solves this age old issue. Drive on Route 27 through Amagansett town and turn right on Indian Wells Highway, park your car when the street ends and hang a right on the beach. Oh, whatever you do, don’t forget to bring a 30-rack of beer. You’re going to need it.”
Kieran Brew didn’t have to read that post on GuestofaGuest.com to know there would be fireworks at Monday night’s Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee meeting. Mr. Brew, the committee’s new chairman, had seen for himself the recent goings-on at Indian Wells, a residents-parking-only beach that has apparently been taken over on weekends since mid-June by happy hordes of beer-chugging partyers in their late 20s and early 30s.
Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, the town board liaison to the citizens committee, spoke first, summing up the tenor of the phone complaints she’s been getting: More than 300 people arriving at the beach in buses, vans, and taxicabs, having parked their cars on small streets with no prohibitive signs (Further Court, Gansett and Melissa Lanes), whose residents don’t know what’s hit them. Loud amplified music. Bud Light beer everywhere. Drunken races in the water. Men relieving themselves in the dunes. “It’s no longer a family and locals beach,” one mournful woman told Ms. Overby.
Some members of the committee were hearing of the issue for the first time, and there were open mouths and audible gasps as the councilwoman spoke. “Don’t they need a mass-gathering permit?” Sheila Okin asked her. The answer was no; no organization, so far as is known, is behind this informal meetup of individuals.
What about drinking in public? was the next question. Isn’t there a law against it? (To quote Guest of a Guest, “Most partyers on the beach have barely even given their hangover a chance to settle in before cracking open a cold one and beginning the drinking festivities of yet another day.”)
Yes, there is a law against open containers, said Ms. Overby, “but the police don’t . . . on beaches . . . you know.” She trailed off. “I like to have a glass of wine late in the day with my husband on the beach,” she finished, to knowing nods.
In fact, the town has no law against drinking on its beaches.
“They had to put another lifeguard stand [at Indian Wells],” said Joan Tulp, because of the crowds in the water and also because lifeguards have to leave their posts to shoo people away from the dunes.
“Marine patrol wrote 10 summonses last weekend for urinating in the dunes and said, ‘You’ll get another summons if all the beer cans aren’t gone at the end of the day,’ ” said Mr. Brew, “and they pretty much were. They do appear to clean it up at the end of the day,” he said, around 4:30 p.m.
He himself may have helped with that, having taken pictures of neglected litter the week before and sent them to Curbed Hamptons, another popular Web site among young summer visitors. Curbed Hamptons posted one of his photos the next day, with a comment: “Friendly reminder: Clean up after yourselves.”
As to who or what to hold accountable for the invasion, almost everyone in the room had an opinion. Jody Flynn said the taxis were to blame. “They’re all Moonlight taxis from Riverhead,” she said. “They had a bus and two taxis blocking the handicapped access last week. Parking on both sides of Further Court and dripping beer cans as they go.” The Moonlight Taxi and Limo Company in Riverhead is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Mr. Brew said he’d talked with Marine Patrol and with Lt. Tom Grenci of the town police about the taxis, “and Tom said he wouldn’t allow them. He chased them off.” One of the worst offenders, Mr. Brew said, was “a silver van with a pirate flag.”
“It’s bigger than a county bus,” fumed Ms. Flynn.
Rona Klopman thought a renaissance in share houses, Amagansett’s bete noire all the way back to the ’60s, was the culprit. “There are a lot in my area [Beach Hampton],” she said. “You call code enforcement, they don’t come. They don’t have enough people.”
Ms. Tulp agreed. “The problem is the share houses,” she said. “I think they know the rules and regulations. Why do you think they take those buses? They know it’s a residents-only beach.”
Mr. Brew, for his part, credited the Internet for spreading the word. “It went viral,” he said shortly. “Twitter.”
Michael Cinque, whose son is a lifeguard, suggested that police “start writing open-container tickets, and then it will get on Twitter.” But beer cans are allowed on town beaches, though, perversely, not glasses containing wine or hard liquor.
Tom Field dissented from the back row, where he always sits, in rumbling bass tones. “Backlash can be a real problem,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be better to go online and say, ‘Hey, guys, here’s what’s going to happen’ ?” Dismissing the idea that share houses were to blame, he added, “We’ve had group houses for years and very rarely have a problem. I’m worried about a blanket cure for everything when 99 out of 100 are not a problem. Don’t tie group homes into this.”
Mr. Brew was of the same mind. “I would rather not use a shotgun,” he said. “Better catch flies with honey.” Elaborating a few minutes later, he said, “These are mostly Wall Street people, they’ve got the money and they’re spending it here. We need this. You don’t want to shoot a mosquito with a shotgun.”
“I don’t think it’s a mosquito, I think it’s a giant scorpion,” said Ms. Flynn.
“I think a lot of homeowners are in situations where they need the money,” said Mr. Brew, who is a real estate agent. “There’s so much inventory in rental houses available just now.” Of the crowds at Indian Wells, he added, “We’d like to think they’re all here to meet somebody. We’d like to think they will, and marry and come back here in five years. I’d like to be friendly.”
But Ms. Okin persisted. “It feels like Amagansett is under siege. Can’t you just . . . ”
Mr. Brew interrupted. “We’ll win the battle, but we’ll lose the war,” he said.
It was unanimously decided after an hour and a half’s back-and-forth that Mr. Brew, as the committee’s chairman, would advise the town board by letter that the committee has “serious concerns about health and safety” at Indian Wells, citing taxis and buses, open containers, parking on nearby streets, and beer bottles underfoot. Mr. Brew also promised to go on Twitter and spread a friendly message about how to behave. “Sending pictures worked,” he said. “There’s no fights.”
“Not yet,” came a voice.
“The last thing we want to do is make these people unhappy,” said Mr. Field. “We want to share the place.”
Councilwoman Overby had the last word. “There’s got to be balance,” she said. “ ‘We want you here, but we want you to care as much as we do.’ ”
Indian Wells Beach was also front and center on the agenda when the town board convened the next day for a work session in Montauk. The town’s chief lifeguard, John Ryan Jr., was there; so was Capt. Mike Sarlo of the town police, John Jilnicki, the town attorney, and Ed Michels, chief of Marine Patrol.
Mr. Jilnicki made it clear that the section of the town code outlawing open alcohol containers in public exempts “any beach not posted by the town as a place where alcoholic consumption is prohibited.” (All the East Hampton Village beaches are so posted, said Larry Cantwell, the village manager.)
Captain Sarlo said that while the code prohibits the sale of beer on the beach, there is no indication that has been happening. Also, he said, glasses containing alcohol are prohibited, but the code makes no mention of beer cans.
Mr. Ryan said that one of his biggest concerns was “the music, because it does interfere with the safety of the beach. Lifeguards communicate from stand to stand with whistles or by radio,” he explained, and may not hear each other, or hear someone yelling for help, over the amplified music.
Mr. Ryan and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley suggested that the town might ban amplified music in “protected areas” (50 yards around the lifeguard stands), but Captain Sarlo and Mr. Michels said existing laws about noise on the beach leave that to the discretion of police. For example, said Mr. Michels, people had come to Indian Wells at first with a generator for music, and Marine Patrol had them put it back in the bus.
The board briefly discussed the question of buses pulling up and discharging passengers, but agreed that the buses have been using an unloading zone and that they move on when asked to.
Mr. Michels said the crowds were not “just a bunch of kids running wild” but “New York City stockbrokers” and other professionals who are reasonable at first when asked to comply with the rules, but “two or three beers into diving for the beer can and whatnot,” they are intoxicated and less reasonable. He argued for increased enforcement, saying the situation could not be left to the lifeguards. The Marine Patrol chief said he has two officers on beach duty, one of whom, on an all-terrain vehicle, is assigned to the “western sector” of beaches, which includes Indian Wells, and the other to the eastern sector, from Hither Hills to Montauk. He said the western officer stays around Indian Wells if not dispatched on a call to somewhere else in the sector.
“We are there as much as we can be there,” Mr. Michels said.
Captain Sarlo told the board Mr. Michels “cannot just assign someone to Indian Wells Beach eight hours a day, but when they are there, it is improving.”
“The only way to go beyond what’s being done is to authorize more overtime hours or more staff,” the police captain added.
Ms. Quigley said she would support hiring one or two additional full-time Marine Patrol officers for Indian Wells, “because that’s where the problem is,” whereupon Supervisor Bill Wilkinson asked Mr. Michels to prepare a proposal for additional staffing and present it to the board, “so we can address it this year.”
When the East Hampton Town Trustees met later in the day on Tuesday, they too took up the case of the beach blanketeers.
“The issue is rude behavior, and you can’t legislate against it,” said Diane McNally, the trustee clerk. But public intoxication, urination, and blaring music were another story, trustees agreed.
Ms. McNally reminded the board of its most troublesome shortcoming: The trustees manage the beaches, but they have no authority to enforce either their own regulations or those created jointly with the town board. Members complained again that the town board continues to ignore the fact that the trustees have legislative authority over the beaches, under the colonial Dongan patent.
Deborah Klughers, a trustee who attended the town board session in Montauk earlier in the day, complained that the trustees were not even invited to it, although Indian Wells Beach was on the agenda.
Joe Bloecker, another trustee, said it was time to bring back elected bay constables who would do nothing other than enforce trustee regulations. The board agreed, and asked John Courtney, their attorney, to draft a referendum to that effect. However, Mr. Michels, the town’s senior harbormaster, said yesterday there was no going back.
With Reporting by Joanne Pilgrim