As the East Hampton Village Board considers increased restrictions for dogs on village beaches, several town and village residents suggested solutions of their own, ranging from bigger and more aggressively worded signs and volunteer beach patrols to stiffer fines and even new citizen’s arrest rights.
The matter dominated discussion at the village board meeting last Thursday.
Citing inquiries and complaints he and board members received, Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. said that recent discussion has focused on two potential changes to the code to create stiffer rules and eliminate ambiguous wording. One would confine dogs to the fringes of village beaches — an as-yet undetermined distance east of the road end at Two Mile Hollow Beach and west of the road end at Georgica Beach. Another would continue allowing dogs on all village beaches, before and after the prohibited times — presently 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from the second Sunday in May through Sept. 30 — but require that they be kept on a leash up to a certain distance east or west of the roadway. Richard Lawler, a member of the board, said that distances of 300 and 500 feet were being considered.
Village and town residents voiced a willingness to make concessions but implored the board to stop short of prohibition at any beaches. “The passionate people here are very willing to work with the board to monitor, be involved, contribute their time, spread the word,” said Sara Davison, the executive director of the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons. Citing the “almost religious experience” of taking one’s dog to the beach, Ms. Davison said, “My experience has been that good laws with a good crew of volunteers are a recipe for success.” The most effective laws, she said, are self-policing. “If it is necessary to use the leash at the entrance to the beaches, I think that’s workable. But it would be a shame to restrict the geography so much,” she said, calling Wiborg’s Beach a particular favorite among dog walkers.
All of that makes sense, said the mayor, but “when we promulgated this policy, working in partnership with ARF a few years ago, the reality was it fell woefully short as far as getting that agreement of participation.” The board feels compelled to tighten regulations and enforcement, he said, “not for those of you that adhere to the policy and work with the village. It’s the others. They’ve encumbered it for everybody.”
Michael Dickerson, who said that his family settled in East Hampton in the 17th century, spoke of the “long and glorious history of being able to enjoy our beaches,” but acknowledged that times have changed. He and other dog owners police the beaches vigorously, he said, but told of visceral reactions from dog owners that he has admonished for not cleaning up after their pets. “It’s not my job to correct your behavior,” he said. “But over the last two seasons I’ve had to become more assertive.”
Mr. Dickerson, in favor of allowing dogs on village beaches, agreed that it is them that we’re going to lose [the privilege to use the beach]. . . . They either don’t believe there is a power strong enough to take that privilege away, or they’re getting their hackles up.”
While supportive of a leash law, Mr. Dickerson pointed out the preponderance of fencing to protect piping plover nesting areas tends to be placed around 500 feet from the beaches’ road ends with uncanny regularity, rendering a 500-foot regulation unworkable for dog walkers. He suggested larger and more aggressive signs, as well as the granting of citizen’s arrest powers. “There are major offenders, and you can’t change their behavior without it turning into a fight,” he said.
“You could have illuminated billboards up there and those individuals are going to pay no attention,” the mayor answered.
Steven Gaines, an author who lives in Wainscott, has started the Committee for Responsible Dog Ownership, which he said was inspired by the Committee for Access Rights, which opposes privatization of beaches. “I want to form a major organization of dog owners out here, maybe 1,000, 1,500 people. I want to raise money, take ads, I want people to really understand what the problem is. We can do this, because CfAR did this and in an enormously successful way,” he said.
Mr. Gaines cited the 1978 law in New York City that required dog owners to clean up after their pets and the resulting group consciousness. “It’s been an enormous success in New York City, a giant city where there are, I think, 2 million dogs in the five boroughs,” he said. “It can be a success out here, but it takes education. We’ve got to organize.”
Regarding the piping plovers, Mr. Gaines said, “The dirtiest thing we have on the beaches are birds. Bird excrement contains 60 different kinds of diseases. Where the piping plovers have nested, I wouldn’t want to walk on that area. So we’ve got a lot of issues if you’re worried about cleaning up the beach.” He asked the board to allow him and other dog owners 6 or 12 months to organize a volunteer force to work every beach on every weekend. “I hope you make the right choice,” he said.
“We don’t want to wait six months or a year,” the mayor told Mr. Gaines. “We want to try to make a better product and put it in place for the season, where the beneficiaries are the users of the beach — all of us. We’re at that point in time.”
Kevin Reynolds, an East Hampton resident and former New York City police officer, said that, “I would have no problem giving the chief 10 summonses a day if I went out there in my Bermuda shorts and just observed. If a police officer went down there in the morning in civilian clothes and just sat in his car, he’d come up with a couple of summonses.”
There must be consequences to bad behavior, said Maureen Bluedorn, addressing the board. “If you raised your fine to $500, $600, second circumstance could be $1,000, it will stop. We’re as frustrated as you are, believe me,” she said.
Any new regulations implemented by the village board would be contingent upon agreement from the town trustees, said the mayor. With that in mind, Diane McNally, the trustee’s clerk, was invited to attend the meeting. “I don’t have a consensus of the board as yet,” Ms. McNally said, but with regard to the new restrictions under consideration, “I have an informal agreement from many of them that this doesn’t appear to be a significant change to anyone’s access to the beach, or a significant infringement of any group’s use of the beach.”
“I think we’re going to head in two directions,” Mayor Rickenbach concluded. “To have some more stringent leash control of the animal, and at the same time possibly make more stringent the violation requirements and fine process. We will continue to have conversations with you folks. We’re all trying to achieve the same goal.”