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Stepped-up enforcement at town beaches; more complaints now about trespassers

In response to growing tensions over crowds and litter, Southold Town will step up enforcement measures at local beaches.

A new task force of police officers, bay constables and traffic control officers has been formed to conduct extra patrols of the shoreline, including road end areas and other access points, officials announced.

The Town Board met for a special meeting with police and recreation officials Tuesday to discuss the mitigation measures.

“In the past, our enforcement has always been against parking at the beaches,” said police chief Martin Flatley. Now, he said, the department is inundated with complaints about fishermen trespassing on private beaches and in some instances, setting up campsites for the entire weekend mainly along Long Island Sound.

Recent complaints lodged with the police department have included reports of trespassing, fishing equipment and other garbage left behind, bonfires and people urinating along the beachfront.

“We’ve had complaints from Breakwater in Mattituck all the way out to the lighthouse in Orient,” the chief said.

He said enforcement has recently increased at Goldsmiths and McCabe’s beaches, where complaints have grown in recent weeks but often lead to an influx of people elsewhere.

Town officials agreed to hire at least two more traffic control officers to patrol beaches and road ends both during the day and overnight, targeting places that are experiencing the highest volume of complaints. “We’re not going to be able to cover every [road end],” the chief said, noting that there are over 50 throughout town.

“It’ll be a moving target,” said councilwoman Jill Doherty.

Additional TCOs may be hired to keep up with enforcement, officials said.

The town’s recreation department is also seeking to hire additional beach attendants to staff facilities that aren’t typically manned and increase their presence from five to seven days a week at high-traffic spots.

Beachgoers may also now be asked to produce proof of residency to enter beaches. Guests that arrive with a resident will not be required to show ID, according to Supervisor Scott Russell.

“Even pre-pandemic, it’s been a growing problem,” Mr. Russell said.

He cited an increase in people driving up to the beach to drop off passengers, then parking beyond the permit-only boundary and walking in.

He said that puts a strain on beach capacity for those who do have town permits, since the state is mandating municipalities to limit beach attendance to half capacity amid the coronavirus pandemic. Officials in Southold are still determining what those numbers would look like locally.

But Councilwoman Sarah Nappa said she’s concerned the practice could turn discriminatory. “We have to be really cautious and careful,” she said. “There are people that do live in this town but maybe don’t have a driver’s license or can’t prove that they have residency.”

Councilman Bob Ghosio said the problem isn’t about fishermen in general, but those that “set up campgrounds and use [the beach] as a toilet. I don’t care who you are … you have to have some way of being able to regulate an asset of the town,” he said.

“I want to make sure we’re not closing the door on people that do live in this town because they aren’t able to get a permit,” Ms. Nappa said.

The supervisor argued that the policy isn’t unprecedented, citing a current order in effect that limits attendance at county parks and beaches to county residents only. He said the town may expand acceptable proofs of residency to include DEC-issued fishing licenses or utility bills. Even occasional enforcement, the supervisor said, may help deter out-of-towners from using the beaches.

Ms. Nappa also suggested the town place additional signage in English and Spanish to remind people to clean up after themselves and raise awareness about these issues. 

In anticipation of the summer beach season, the board also discussed changes to how hotels and motels receive beach passes for guests. Though typically allotted one pass per guest room, the board is considering only issuing half of that number to hotels this year.

The supervisor also suggested expanding the hours the drive-thru is open at the Town Hall Annex for residents to obtain beach passes to 7 p.m.

It is currently open Thursday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Under a current order, town permits from 2019 are still acceptable for beach access through July 10. Due to a backlog in permit issuance, officials said residents who’ve purchased permits online and haven’t received them yet may place the receipt in their dashboard to avoid being ticketed.

After Tuesday’s public meeting, the board met in executive session to discuss additional staffing measures as well as guidelines for reopening playgrounds, which will require an additional facilities employee to sterilize equipment adequately, Mr. Russell said.