Trustees Will Challenge Beach Alcohol Ban

After much discussion, a failed compromise

A proposed ban on alcoholic beverages at Indian Wells and Atlantic Avenue Beaches in Amagansett, which will be the subject of a public hearing at Town Hall next Thursday, remains an irritant among the East Hampton Town Trustees who resolved Tuesday to address the town board at the hearing.

The trustees, who own and manage beaches and waterways under the colonial Dongan Patent, are angry at what they consider disregard of their jurisdiction and fearful of an incremental loss of the public’s rights.

But they are not unanimous. While a letter to be delivered to the town board is critical of the proposed ban, some trustees have indicated a willingness to go along with it. The ban would apply to the beaches for a distance of 1,500 feet east and west of the roadway ends during lifeguard-protected hours, on a trial basis.

The trustees had instead suggested a compromise: a no-alcohol area, extending 500 feet in either direction, on weekends and federal holidays only, and only at Indian Wells Beach. That beach has been marked in recent summers by large gatherings of young adults, many of them drinking excessively and prompting complaints from residents.

The trustees also insisted on the presence of an officer who would enforce existing laws pertaining to behavior. In response, the town board modified its position slightly, reducing the span in which the prohibition would apply from 2,500 feet to 1,500 feet.

In a draft of a letter dated yesterday, the trustees wrote to the town board that, in light of its unwillingness to compromise further, the ancient body “rescinds our agreement to consider any additional regulations for the beach or for the posting of additional regulations at the road ends. Unless and until the Town Board can document the number of alcohol-related complaints received by the Town Police and Marine Patrol to which an officer responds and issues a violation or ticket; and then is actually prosecuted in local court with the appropriate fine paid; the trustees will not consider this matter further.”

“I’m very angry,” said Diane McNally, the trustees’ presiding officer. The trustees’ recommendations, she said, “were the result of a compromise, and we were not unanimous. They know that.” She referred to “three meetings of angst” in which the group debatedthe situation, and suggested that beachgoers situated more than 1,500 feet from lifeguards will mistakenly believe that they are protected.

The town’s response?

“Nothing,” she said.

Most of the trustees remained angry. “Tell them to go try it in Montauk,” said Stephanie Forsberg, “and see how it works out. Field-test it in Montauk,” which has, in recent years especially, also been invaded by alcohol-fueled crowds and raucous behavior — and where the trustees do not have jurisdiction.

Behavior is the issue, Ms. Forsberg said, “and if we ban what people think is causing the behavior, it’s just going to move.”

A majority of residents she has spoken with, said Deborah Klughers, a trustee, do not agree with the proposed ban.

Bill Taylor, a trustee and the town’s waterways management supervisor, who was open to a ban specific to Indian Wells Beach, said he would likely speak on his own behalf at the hearing. “I really think a message has to be out to the people abusing this,” he said, but “I also think there’s some benefit to having a family-friendly beach. It’s, in some ways, taking care of another user group. It lets everybody have a place to go . . . We have to listen to what everybody in the town has to say.”

But Timothy Bock, a staunch opponent of any alcohol ban, summarized the majority opinion. “This whole thing is stupid,” he said.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Ms. Forsberg updated her colleagues on the water-quality testing being done in conjunction with Dr. Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook University. Despite the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s recent confirmation of cyanobacteria blooms in Montauk, Southampton, and Mattituck, there is “nothing but excellent news to report” in trustee-managed waterways, she said, which show no signs of cyanobacteria. Pathogen levels will, however, likely rise along with water temperatures, she noted.

Dr. Gobler would like to place two oxygen sensors in Georgica Pond, Ms. Forsberg told the trustees, who agreed to let him do so.