East Hampton plans to air a controversial proposal to limit alcohol consumption at two Amagansett ocean beaches at a public hearing tomorrow night, June 19, at 6:30 p.m.
Councilman Fred Overton made limiting alcohol at beaches a hallmark of his campaign for his seat last fall, and numerous members of the public have been asking the town to better manage the rowdy partying that’s been going on at Indian Wells Beach in recent years, but the East Hampton Town Trustees, who oversee the town’s waterways, aren’t happy with the idea of limiting what people can do on the beaches.
After months of discussion, the town is asking the public to weigh in tomorrow on whether the town should ban the ingestion of alcohol and open containers of alcohol during the hours where lifeguards are on duty and within 1,500 along the beach in either direction from the road ends at Indian Wells and Atlantic Avenue beaches.
The Trustees had asked the town to limit the ban to weekends, to only have it at Indian Wells Beach, where the complaints have been, and to limit the restriction to 500 feet from road-ends.
“Some of us feel that 500 feet is not going to address the issue,” said Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell at the town board’s June 3 work session. “The prohibited area needs to be longer than that on both sides of the road in order to make this effective in order to separate alcoholic activity from where families are at the beach.”
Mr. Cantwell said it’s time for the town to “fish or cut bait” on holding a public hearing on the law.
“The summer season has started. I don’t think we’ve have had issues at this point, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have them later this summer,” he said.
Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, who has been overseeing the overhaul of access to Indian Wells to make it safer, said this proposal is also about safety.
“We’re not talking about access to the beach,” she said, referring to the trustees’ mandate, which dates back to colonial days, to protect public access to waterways. “We’re talking about safety at the beach. Bars prohibit kids from going there. You’re putting kids and families together with people drinking alcohol. I think it’s a safety issue.”
Ms. Overby added that anyone will still be able to go down to the beach at 6 p.m. after the lifeguards are off duty and have a glass of wine.
“I’ll join you. I’d love to be there,” she said.
Trustee Clerk Diane McNally is none-too-happy with the proposal, which she says may just lead drinkers and partiers to chose another beach, and added that if people chose to walk 1,500 feet away from the lifeguard stand, they may assume the lifeguard is watching them, when in fact they are in unprotected waters.
She added that the 500-foot restriction proposed by the Trustees is the same distance that dogs and parked beach vehicles have to be from a bathing area.
“So, I can turn my dog loose before I can have a drink on the beach?” she asked. “That’s a lot of beach.”
“Public intoxication is so hard to enforce,” she said, adding that if the town’s harbormasters are charged with patrolling beach drinking, they won’t be out on the water protecting boaters.
“We had considered starting with just weekends and federal holidays. You’re proposing the entire season, every day,” she said. “Some people came to us said what’s the problem? I go there on Wednesday. Everything is fine.”
At the town board’s June 5 meeting, she went a little further.
“If you’re stating it’s an alcohol free beach, if it doesn’t have trustee support, you’re initiating another regulation on land that is not within your jurisdiction,” she said.
“Are you saying if the town board proceeds, you’re going to sue us?” asked Mr. Cantwell.
“I believe it’s challengeable in the courts the way it’s written,” she said. “I’m just disappointed. There’s no compromise here.”