Proposal To Ban Alcohol On Amagansett Beaches Draws Support, Criticism At Public Hearing

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The East Hampton Town Board has postponed action on a proposal to ban summer alcohol consumption at Indian Wells and Atlantic Avenue beaches in Amagansett.

At a public hearing on Thursday night, June 19, the speakers seemed largely split over the proposed ban, and the East Hampton Town Trustees, who have jurisdiction over the beaches, did not offer much support either.

As a result of the hearing, the East Hampton Town Board agreed to consider the points made by several of the evening’s speakers and discuss the matter further with the Trustees—although the Town Board ultimately has the legal authority to institute the ban, with or without the support of the Trustees.

Diane McNally, clerk of the Town Trustees, said the Town Board had, in fact, ignored the Trustees’ wishes when they put forth the proposal and scheduled a public hearing on the matter. The Trustees disagree with the amount of beach that would be covered by the alcohol ban, since they advocate for the public’s right to have access to the beaches.

The new law, as it is currently written, would prohibit alcohol within a 3,000-foot stretch—1,500 feet going east and west of the road ends—at both Indian Wells and Atlantic Avenue beaches during lifeguard hours, which are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It would be in effect on certain weekends and holidays until the third week in June, when the town beaches officially open for the summer. The ban would then be in effect every day until the beaches are no longer protected by lifeguards in the fall.

The Trustees had been pushing for a 1,000-foot prohibition—500 feet going east and west of the road ends, and only at Indian Wells—as a compromise, according Ms. McNally, and they aren’t happy with the 3,000-foot proposal and the inclusion of Atlantic Avenue Beach.

“We offered a compromise, and in our opinion it wasn’t considered at all,” Ms. McNally said, adding that the Trustees have a petition against the ban, which includes 200 signatures collected over four days. “The majority of the Trustees are not in support of the proposal as written,” she added.

However, advocates of the ban said it would increase safety and lessen the rowdy behavior that has seemingly plagued Indian Wells Beach in particular, which some call “Frat Beach,” for the last three summers.

“It’s the cool spot for kids,” Amagansett resident Rob Andres said at the hearing. “I don’t want my daughter where the cool spot is. I do not want her seeing what goes on, what I see. Maybe when I was 18 or 20 I wouldn’t be making this speech, but now that I see what’s going on, get rid of it. Stop the problem. It’s impending doom.”

One surprising voice in support of the alcohol ban was a Town Trustee, Bill Taylor, who said it’s time to act. “The behavior has gotten more out of hand,” he said. “This law sends the message that we’re not going to take it anymore. It’s a matter of public safety and not a matter of public access.”

He continued to say that the obligation lies with the Town Board, and that if the ban were to be put in place, it could be simply on a trial basis until the Town Board and the Trustees can sit down and come up with a better compromise.

But Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the board had listened to the Trustees, and he had even gone to a Trustees meeting in hopes of finding common ground. “I don’t know the last time a town supervisor went to a Trustees meeting,” he said. “I was trying to show that I was making an effort.”

He said the first proposal the Town Board had come up with was changed in part because of the Trustees’ suggestions. Instead of a beachwide ban, the ban was limited to a certain distance.

“You may feel what is proposed tonight isn’t enough of a compromise, but it is different based on the suggestions you made,” Mr. Cantwell told Ms. McNally. “It may be that the Town Board doesn’t agree with every one of your recommendations, but we changed this law in part because of the Trustees.”

Other opponents of the law said the problem has already been improved by increased police patrols and traffic calming measures that the town took last year. They say there is no need for a ban.

Using Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo’s presentation, in which he outlined a decrease in problems at Indian Wells Beach from the summers of 2012 to 2013, Springs resident Ira Barocas said there is no use in enacting the law. There were 36 violations for open containers of alcohol in the parking lot of Indian Wells in the summer of 2012, and 27 such violations in 2013.

“Passing that law prohibits the behavior by everyone, not just those who are offensive,” Mr. Barocas argued. “I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the town. The chief said 2013 was better. With stepped-up enforcement, they can make it better yet without prohibiting us.”

Lifelong Amagansett resident Stuart Vorpahl said the Town Board should reconsider.

“Why is the Town Board acting with such discrimination about who wishes to drink on the beach?” he asked. “The Trustees are willing to try a one-season ban on beach drinking at 500 feet—the same distance that dogs are banned. The Town Board rates those that drink alcohol on the beach lower than dogs. Drinking should have equal rights as dogs, which is precisely what the Town Trustees are proposing.”

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