Trustees Consider Alcohol Ban

An unexpected visit from the supervisor

With four of their nine members absent due to illness or other commitments, the East Hampton Town Trustees indicated on Tuesday, with some reluctance and on a trial basis, a willingness to accept some prohibition of alcoholic beverages at Indian Wells and Atlantic Avenue Beaches in Amagansett.

There was an unexpected visit during the evening from East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, who gently urged the trustees, who manage the town’s public lands and waterways on behalf of the public, to reach a consensus as soon as possible.

Concern over beer-fueled crowds of young adults at Indian Wells has been simmering for more than a year. Last month the East Hampton Town Board proposed banning the consumption of alcohol within 2,500 feet east and west of the road ends at the two beaches during the hours when lifeguards are on duty.

The trustees, who had not been consulted, strongly objected.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Diana Walker, who lives in Amagansett, spoke of an exerience with her niece at Indian Wells Beach last summer that she said had left her “horrified,” and asked the trustees to “listen to your constituents.” Ms. Walker said she was discouraged by “the perceived turf war between the town board and the trustees. I don’t think it serves you well,” she said. “There seemed to be an impression that you were stonewalling the whole issue.”

“Before we could even discuss it,” Diane McNally, clerk of the trustees, responded, “they’d already proposed an amendment and a public hearing.”

“The thing is not to bring us in at the end of the conversation,” said Deborah Klughers. “We’re willing to talk about anything.”

Ms. McNally said she was trying to approach the issue through a section of town code dealing with peace and good order, and had consulted sections of the East Hampton Village Code pertaining to public intoxication, indecent language, indecent acts, and unlawful assemblies. She acknowledged, however, that “our constituents are upset by disrespectful behavior of certain individuals taking advantage of this beautiful natural resource.”

Bill Taylor and Brian Byrnes, each newly elected to the board of trustees in November, were more receptive to a prohibition, within parameters. “Setting aside an area that would be alcohol-free would impact a small percentage of the beach,” Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Byrnes said that after speaking with a cross-section of residents, he would support a ban, on an experimental basis, during lifeguard hours. “It’s unfortunate that a handful of people ruin it for so many others,” he said. “It’s got to be frustrating for lifeguards to have to keep an eye on people who are feeling a buzz in the surf.” Mr. Byrnes said his son, who is 8, loves the water. “If lifeguards are concentrating on these knuckleheads, a true emergency may be overlooked,” he said.

But Ms. McNally repeatedly warned of a domino effect, predicting that other groups would inevitably demand an alcohol ban at their preferred beaches. She again acknowledged the “very poor behavior” of some beachgoers at Indian Wells, but insisted that “it’s behavior, not alcohol.”

Mr. Cantwell, who arrived in the midst of the discussion, told the trustees that “I’m just here to try to find a way to work with you, to see if we can’t put something in place, even on a trial basis of some kind.” He said he shared some of their concerns, and was wary of simply moving the problem from one place to another.

“I do think there are enough people who feel a very limited alcohol prohibition during lifeguard hours at a couple of beaches might be something we try, and see what results from it. I’m willing to work with you,” he said.

The debate continued after the supervisor’s brief appearance. “I’m in favor of going along with the experiment,” Mr. Taylor said, suggesting that the trustees consult town police before deciding on the geographic limits of any areas in which alcohol would be prohibited.

Ms. McNally said the trustees should reconvene before the town board’s work session on Tuesday to come to terms on their position.