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Southold Town may eliminate daily beach passes for good

Daily beach passes may soon become a thing of the past in Southold.

Officials are currently weighing a proposal that would eliminate the passes, citing issues with overcrowding.

“I think the town just no longer has the infrastructure to support issuing daily passes,” Supervisor Scott Russell said at a Nov. 17 Town Board work session. “We don’t have enough beaches. We don’t have enough space.”

Daily passes, which are typically sold for $40, were not issued during the 2020 season due to restrictions aimed at limiting beach attendance during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The town also stopped issuing seasonal non-resident passes in an effort to restrict use of beaches, parks and other amenities to residents only.

But deputy supervisor Jill Doherty said crowded beaches have posed a problem since at least 2015. “We don’t have the room anymore,” she said in an interview last Thursday.

Tensions over crowding at beaches prompted town officials to form a task force of police officers, bay constables, traffic control officers and others to patrol shorelines, road ends and other beach access points.

The 2020 beach season also required beachgoers to show proof of residency to attendants before entering. Attendants also monitored the beaches for overcrowding and began restricting access when groups were unable to space out sufficiently on the sand.

In an update to town officials in July, recreation department supervisor Janet Douglass said New Suffolk Beach presented the most pressing issues and was the town beach closed most consistently due to reaching maximum capacity.

The proposal was met with support among board members, though Councilwoman Louisa Evans asked town attorney Bill Duffy to look into the legality of the measure. “I don’t want to see a lawsuit because people from out of Southold say, ‘Wait a minute, you’re taking away our right to come to the beach,’ ” she said. “I’m not against the idea, I just think we should be very careful on how it’s done.”

Mr. Duffy said he generally doesn’t see a concern with the idea and is exploring whether a code change is necessary. The changes could take effect as soon as summer 2021. Renters and guests of hotels and motels would still be eligible for those types of beach passes.