Three areas along the ocean on Napeague are being considered for new East Hampton Town bathing beaches with lifeguards and bathrooms.
A report presented to the town board last week by the town’s nature preserve committee identified and analyzed several properties which could accommodate parking and provide a new shorefront area for beachgoers, filling a need board members have been discussing, particularly in light of increasingly overcrowded beaches during the peak summer season.
An ad hoc committee will be formed to further assess the recommendations, at the suggestion of Councilman Dominick Stanzione, who worked with the nature preserve committee and the town’s Natural Resources and Planning Departments to develop the list of possible beach sites.
The committee’s top proposal is to use a 6.7-acre parcel of town-owned land at 2048 Montauk Highway, just west of the Windward Shores Ocean Resort, a rectangular lot stretching from the highway to the shore.
A 37-acre parcel that abuts Dolphin Drive to its west, called the South Flora Nature Preserve, which had been previously eyed by the town board for a new bathing beach, is also discussed in the committee report.
The property is ecologically significant, and the nature preserve committee recommended further study to determine if it could be developed into a bathing beach without negative consequences.
If not, the group said, it could perhaps serve as a beach access point, with parking, while remaining unguarded.
Previous discussion by the town board of developing a bathing beach at the South Flora site drew much public discussion regarding its fragile ecology and potential traffic problems posed by cars entering and exiting a parking lot there, as well as opposition by members of a neighborhood group of residents who live nearby.
The third location discussed in the committee report includes several publicly owned parcels in the Beach Plum Park subdivision, which is just east of Windward Shores.
Due to several issues, that site was not recommended as a guarded beach. The committee suggested however, that the town-owned lots, among them a 14.6-acre parcel with a finger stretching from the highway to the ocean that includes a sand road used for beach-driving access, be designated as nature preserves and used for informal beach access.
Ed Reid, an East Hampton Town lifeguard captain and a member of the ocean rescue squad, told the town board at a meeting on Tuesday that East Hampton’s beach facilities are for “a 1980s population, and we’re in a 2013 world.” Those charged with protecting bathers and saving swimmers in distress, he said, are concerned that, when faced with crowded designated and guarded bathing beaches, people will go to unprotected beaches to get away from the crowds. “And that’s truly a concern to us, especially if the season is going to be like last year, with high surf,” Mr. Reid said.
“I think it’s time we take our head out of the sands and really look at this,” said Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, who has been pressing to establish a new bathing beach for over a year. She asked that the lifeguards and ocean rescue staff be included in discussions of potential new beaches.
“I don’t think we need further justification for the town to engage in any further development of a protected beach,” Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said. “It’s just a question of where it is going to be.”
The committee report suggests that the Planning Department research the feasibility of using the former Church of God property. An acre of parking there, says the report, could provide spaces for more than 100 cars. According to the report, though, on the 6.7-acre property, “it is unlikely that the beach is deep enough from the toe of the dunes to the water to allow for both a lifeguard bathing beach and beach driving.”
Permission from the town trustees to install a lifeguard stand or to restrict beach driving would be needed to create a bathing beach at any of the designated sites. The nature preserve committee’s chairman, Zachary Cohen, consulted the trustees about the committee’s discussions. He told the town board last week that an ongoing lawsuit against the trustees and the town by oceanfront homeowners opposed to beach driving near their residences could be an obstacle.
In an April 10 letter to Mr. Cohen and the nature preserve committee, the trustees said that they “will not consider altering or amending existing regulations for beaches until the lawsuit challenging the trustee ownership has been settled.”
“I’m on a campaign to get this beach open, and I think the trustees are standing as an impediment,” said Councilwoman Quigley last week. “The trustees are unwilling to negotiate. . . .” she said.
“My interpretation,” Mr. Cohen said, is “the door may be open in the future — ‘we’d like to work with you.’ ”