It’s been months since East Hampton began seriously debating what to do about the drunken revelry that has made Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett the go-to beach for partygoers over the past couple years, earning the beach the nickname “frat beach” among locals who, in many cases, are now afraid to bring their children there.
Last year, the town reconfigured the parking lot to make it more difficult for party buses and limos to access the beach, where parking is limited to town residents only, in an attempt to cut down on the partygoers and make the parking lot safer for families with young children who have long used the beach. But many who live near the beach have been urging the town to prohibit alcohol there as well.
The East Hampton Town Board and Trustees have been at odds over how best to handle the drinking situation for several months.
On June 19, the public had their first chance to weigh in on a proposal to ban drinking during the hours that a lifeguard is on duty at the beach, both in the bathing area and 1,500 feet to each side of the bathing area, at both Indian Wells and Atlantic Avenue beaches. The trustees had suggested alcohol be prohibited within 500 feet of the beach.
Police Chief Michael Sarlo pointed out that he staffs the beach with one marine patrol officer all the time on weekends, and a second officer spends much of his shift there. The town also has a traffic control officer at the beach and the parks department has one employee manning the entry booth.
In the summer of 2012, he said, his department responded to 61 calls for service at Indian Wells during summer weekends. Last summer, they responded to 59 calls.
He said the beach is now known among visitors as the place to part, drink and meet people, and that, while parents of young children have been complaining to his office, his officers can only write tickets for violations that they actually see occurring on the beach.
“Patrols at the beach can not witness every single incident,” he said, adding that, while parents have urged his staff to write tickets for disorderly conduct, much of the behavior at the beach doesn’t rise to the legal definition of disorderly conduct. He added that there is no law on the books prohibiting public intoxication.
Sue Avedon of Amagansett winters in South Beach, Fla., and she said young people on spring break there obey the rules against drinking on the beach.
“We’ve got tons of young people there having a good time and they’re there to enjoy themselves,” she said. “I’ve never seen any problems on that beach. I don’t see the kind of drunkenness [there is in East Hampton]. Sometimes they’re speaking loudly, but they’re having fun and having a good time.”
Ira Barocas said he’s opposed to banning alcohol.
“The chief said 2013 was better. With a little stepped-up enforcement in 2014 we can make it better still,” he said. “I think that there are better ways to do this.”
Diana Walker said she is not only in favor of the law, but she would like to see a mobile court at the beach, where “arrests could be adjudicated on the spot with fines of at least $1,000 per offense.”
Trustee Deborah Klughers said she thinks if drinking is banned at these two beaches, drinkers will just go to another beach. She also thinks that if people have to walk further along the beach in order to drink, they will be going to the bathroom in the dunes and leaving more garbage on the beach.
Trustee Bill Taylor, however, says he’s in favor of the restrictions.
“It’s time to send a message out to the people that are disrupting our beaches,” he said. “I think this law sends a message out that we’re not going to take it anymore.”
“This is a matter of public safety, not a matter of public access,” he said. “The agency responsible for dealing with this is the town board.”
Rhona Klopman said she often tells families who try to use the unguarded beaches in her Amagansett neighborhood to go to the beaches at Atlantic Avenue and Indian Wells, where their children can be under the supervision of lifeguards. But she doesn’t want to send them to beaches where they’ll be exposed to public drinking and rowdiness.
Martin Drew of Springs said the proposal is “another example of government taking away our liberties.”
“Unless the trustees are putting this forward, I don’t think the town has the authority to supercede the trustees’ authority,” he said. “Amagansett is also known as ‘I’m Against It.’ They should be against this.”
Elaine Jones of Amagansett is against drinking at the beach where several generations of her family have taken their children.
“My grandchildren won’t go to that beach,” she said. “There seems to be a misunderstanding about a ban. You can go 1,500 feet either way and have your drink, if you really need it. I can think of a dozen places I can go to the beach and have a drink.”
Joan Tulp of Amagansett said things have gotten so crazy at Indian Wells that she was recently overrun by filmmakers and paparazzi accompanying the Kardashians onto the beach.
Trustee Clerk Diane McNally said she didn’t know why the Kardashians were filming without a permit.
“Who gave the Kardashians permission to film on Indian Wells beach? Get ’em off. Get ’em out of here,” she said.
Ms. McNally added that she had believed the town board and the trustees were “making significant progress” in coming together on a compromise before the town board decided, without their input, to hold a public hearing.
“This controversy didn’t have to happen,” she said.
Stuart Vorpahl of Amagansett said he thinks the town board is running roughshod over the trustees.
“Why is the town board acting with such discrimination against people who wish to drink on the beach?” he said, adding that the trustees are willing to ban drinking within 500 feet of the bathing beach, the same distance that dogs are banned, but not within the 1,500 feet proposed by the board.
“The East Hampton Town Board ranks people who wish to drink on the beach lower than dogs,” he said. “Drinkers should have the same rights as dogs.”
Rob Andres lives on Indian Wells Highway and he has a 10-year-old daughter who likes to go to the beach.
“I do not want here seeing what I see,” he said. “There are 40 other beaches in this town. Go to those beaches if you want to have a drink or a cocktail. Get rid of it. Stop the problem.”
Ashley Silverman has had a house near Indian Wells for 25 years, and she said she believes people are drinking there because drinking on the beach is banned most other places.
“At Indian Wells Beach there empty spaces sometimes in August because residents don’t want to go there,” she said. “Thats’ a sad statement in our town.”
Town Trustee Brian Burns pointed out that the trustees’ suggestion of 500 feet is already equal the length of one and a half football fields.
“If we’re gonna go down, we’re gonna go down swinging,” he said.
Trustee assistant clerk Stephanie Forsberg said she believes the discussion got off on the wrong foot.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about the trustee stand on this,” she said. “We’re not in favor of inappropriate behavior on the beaches…. We’re just thinking that this is going to push the problem elsewhere. We want to solve the root of the problem.”
Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said he would always prefer to work with the trustees, but he and the board believed there’d been enough discussion that it was time to at least put a proposal on the table to see what the public thinks.
“We know that there is enough interest in this issue that our feeling is that the public was entitled to be heard on this issue,” he told Ms. McNally and Ms. Forsberg. “We would always prefer to work with you and the trustees.”
“I would too,” said Ms. McNally. “But it seems every time the words are there and the actions are not.”
The board closed the public hearing and Mr. Cantwell said he plans to bring the trustees in for a work session discussion on how to proceed.