One month after the public decried a proposal for Riverhead Town to corral drinkers into beer gardens at public events, the town is working out a compromise that will allow public drinking, so long as the drinker receives a bracelet acknowledging they are 21 years of age.
On April 23, Riverhead Community Awareness Program Executive Director Felicia Scocozza pitched the prospect of beer gardens to the town board as one of several suggestions to help limit underage drinkers’ access to alcohol at public events. CAP’s mission is to keep drugs and alcohol out of the hands of kids.
The board was open to the idea at the time, but quickly faced a public backlash, as many longtime Riverhead events — from the Country Fair to the Polish Town Fair — have long profited from the temporary lifting of the town’s open container alcohol regulations.
“Beer gardens are way too intense, and they don’t work for areas like Polish Town or Main Street,” acknowledged Councilman Jim Wooten at this morning’s work session.
At this morning’s work session, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio pitched a new proposal, which she said she’d discussed as a compromise with Ms. Scocozza: Each alcohol vendor would have at least one employee (or volunteer) who receives Training for Intervention ProcedureS (TIPS), a two-to-five-hour training which enables vendors to know the signs of intoxication and helps them recognize and handle underage drinkers.
Anyone who wants to drink at a public festival will need to show their ID to one of those vendors and receive a bracelet that proves they are old enough to drink, and alcohol would be sold at the fair in 12 ounce plastic cups.
“Twelve ounce cups just makes sense, and we can certainly make it harder for kids to drink,” said Councilman Jim Wooten.
Councilman John Dunleavy added that he believes people may consume more alcohol if they’re confined to beer gardens, because when they’re allowed to carry it on the street they’re more likely to sip as they stroll.
Ms. Giglio said the Polish Town Civic Association plans to open up its hall for TIPS training classes in July prior to the Polish Fair.
Ms. Giglio also suggested the town’s Business Improvement District let downtown restaurant owners know that anyone leaving their restaurants with alcohol during festivals should be given a bracelet, the alcohol should be served in 12 ounce plastic cups and the restaurants need permission from the State Liquor Authority to allow their patrons to leave the restaurant with alcohol.
The town is not planning this year to create a new local law requiring the bracelets and cups, said Town Supervisor Sean Walter, but will draft a resolution enacting the new restrictions as a policy for this year before considering whether to make it a part of the town code.
While police officers won’t be able to write tickets if someone violates the policy, Ms. Giglio said the idea this year is to use the bracelets to identify people who are legally old enough to drink, allowing the police to ask to check the ID of anyone seen drinking without a bracelet.
What the board can’t do, however, is prohibit delis from selling six packs of beer, which people could consume in areas where open container restrictions have been waived for the day.
Ms. Giglio said police can write a ticket to deli owners who advertise beer for sale to go or who display alcohol in a cooler outside their business.
The town would also need to inform boaters who dock along the Peconic River during festivals that, while open container restrictions have been lifted for the day, they will need to get a bracelet and pour their alcohol into a plastic cup if they want to drink it on town property.
“We’re never going to solve all the issues,” said Mr. Walter.
“It’s all about enforcement,” said Councilman George Gabrielsen.
Ms. Scocozza said later today that she’s happy with the town’s new proposals.
“I think these are all good practices that hopefully wil reduce youth access to alcohol at events and still keep them fun and keep the community safe,” she said.
Ms. Scocozza said she believes much of the backlash against the original proposals was based on inaccurate social media posts saying her group was trying to ban alcohol at Riverhead’s festivals.
“I was surprised at the backlash, but much of the backlash was based on inaccurate information spread through social media,” she said. “There’s no way at that point that you can get the truth out once it starts taking on a life of its own.”
Ms. Scocozza added that many nearby towns already have policies in place to keep youth from consuming alcohol at festivals.
“Clear policies around this are not uncommon,” she said.
New Name for EPCAL Path
The board also agreed at this morning’s work session to name the recreation path at EPCAL, currently being expanded with the help of a county grant, in honor of veterans of the Vietnam War.
Councilman Dunleavy suggested the trail be named the “Vietnam Veterans Memorial Trail,” and board members heartily agreed.
Ms. Giglio, who has been helping shepherd the project along, said there would be benches every mile-and-a-half alongside the trail, and trash cans at the beginning and end. There would also be monuments to Riverhead’s fallen soldiers along the path, one for each war.
Mr. Dunleavy said the town’s Combined Veterans organization is looking to spend money it raised over Memorial Day weekend, and he will approach them about helping with the path.