A lengthy and animated debate among the East Hampton Town Trustees on Tuesday evening ended with what was apparently reluctant support for a limited ban on alcoholic beverages at Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett on a trial basis. The trustees, who own and manage most town beaches on behalf of the public, had previously balked at the town board’s proposal to ban alcohol at both Indian Wells and Atlantic Avenue in Amagansett. The latter beach was not part of Tuesday’s deliberations.
With eight of the nine trustees present, the group debated how to control the hundreds-strong, rowdy crowds of summer visitors who have drawn complaints from residents. The debate was rife with disagreement, with several trustees adamantly opposed to any prohibition. Some warned of a domino effect, causing residents of other areas to demand alcohol bans, while others argued that the proposed ban at two Amagansett beaches would only move crowds elsewhere. The majority seemed to acknowledge that drinking at Indian Wells was a legitimate problem demanding attention.
Diane McNally, the trustees clerk, said she had distributed a draft response to the proposal made by the town board among her colleagues but had not received a reply from a majority. “We need an opportunity to get on the same page, so we can put it back to them,” she said.
Rona Klopman and Diana Walker, both of whom live in Amagansett, were in the audience on Tuesday. They urged the trustees to take action.
Ms. McNally complained that the town board was going to hold a public hearing before the trustees had a chance to make their opinion known. “They could have just waited. This whole issue could have been much simpler,” she said.
Opinions shifted over the course of the lengthy debate, with some trustees seemingly resigned to some degree of prohibition, despite fears of a slippery slope to the loss of other freedoms the trustees advocate, such as beach driving.
Nat Miller said he understood an alcohol ban within lifeguard-protected areas, but was uncomfortable with its being proposed for only one or two beaches. “Are you going to help the safety there but not in Montauk, not Little Albert’s?” he asked. “I don’t think you are solving a problem by banning it at two spots. You’re moving it somewhere else.”
Brian Byrnes was more receptive to a prohibition, citing safety. “If the lifeguards are focusing on intoxicated behavior in and out of the surf, some of our kids could really suffer,” he said.
As the debate went on (and on), he and others suggested that the ban cover a smaller area than the 2,500 feet that some town officials had proposed. Ms. McNally suggested the area in which alcohol was banned could mirror the rule about where dogs are required to be leashed.
Bill Taylor was among those who wanted to go along with the town proposal. “There’s a large user group of people who want to go to the beach where there’s no alcohol,” he said. But Tim Bock disagreed, saying, “You’re taking people’s rights away.” He reiterated his oppostion to a ban as the meeting went on.
“If we’re going to spend so much time enforcing a behavioral problem,” Deborah Klughers asked, “what about poaching and other issues we’ve been trying to get enforced for so long?” Several of her colleagues agreed that a lack of enforcement was the real problem.
Ms. Klughers suggested that agreeing to a prohibition should be contingent on “an enforcer” on the beach during the times in which it is in effect. “And we should make it very, very clear that this is a trial,” Mr. Miller said.
Ultimately, Ms. McNally settled on a statement that she will distribute among the trustees, and asked for a quick response. Although not yet drafted on Tuesday it apparently calls for an alcohol ban on a trial basis. The ban would span 500 feet east and west of the road end at Indian Wells Highway between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekends and federal holidays from the Thursday before Memorial Day to Sept. 15.
“In addition,” she said, “we want any and all other laws enforced: public urination, the noise ordinance, general disorderly conduct . . . . And, an enforcement officer on the beach during the hours of the prohibition.”