By Mara Certic
A proposed ban on alcohol at two beaches in Amagansett has the two elected branches of East Hampton Town’s government at odds.
The East Hampton Town Board has suggested a ban on drinking at Indian Wells and Atlantic Avenue Beaches in Amagansett during lifeguarding hours in the summer months in an effort to curtail what many believe to be inappropriate behavior that has become more prevalent over the past few years.
One speaker at the public hearing on Thursday, Mark Schultz, referred to Indian Wells Beach as “frat beach.”
But the town board’s proposal has frustrated many of the Trustees, who obtained their power from King James II in 1686 and to this day own and manage the beaches on behalf of the commonality.
In the past few years, Indian Wells Beach has transformed. In 2012 the family-friendly beach in Amagansett began to host a different sort of beach-goer after various media began advertising the town beach as “the place to party.”
According to Police Chief Michael Sarlo, this resulted in hundreds of people showing up to the beach on weekends with coolers, kegs and loud music—and about 60 summons a year, roughly half of which were issued for open containers of alcohol in the parking lot, the rest for public urination, littering and failure to follow posted regulations or directions from the lifeguards.
The situation “became dangerous” and the “flow of traffic became burdensome,” according to Chief Sarlo. The problem, however, is difficult to enforce, as officers must physically witness violations in order to issue a summons.
Another problem, according to the police chief, is that the acts that are being committed do not actually rise to the level required by the New York State penal code, even though they “may be offensive to some, and may be morally questionable.”
For example, he explained, according to state law, the revelers cannot be cited for unlawful assembly unless their reason for congregating is to engage or prepare to engage in tumultuous or violent conduct. “Once again,” he said. “[Unlawful assembly is] a class b misdemeanor and the courts have not found, unfortunately, that beer funnels or drinking games are tumultuous and violent conduct.”
The proposed ban would prohibit drinking alcohol from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, in an area spanning 3,000 feet—1,500 feet both east and west of the road end.
The Trustees had suggested that the ban be in effect only on weekends and only in 500 feet in each direction from the parking lot.
Trustee Deborah Klughers expressed concern that increasing the area of the alcohol ban would, in fact, worsen the current situation, because the revelers would move farther down the beach, out of lifeguarded areas and farther away from garbage cans and the restrooms. “They will be urinating in the dunes, they will be littering more,” she said. “Pushing these people away will push them even farther away, to other beaches in our community.”
Many of those who spoke on Thursday—both for and against the law—said that this was a problem unique to Indian Wells Beach, and they did not understand why the beach at Atlantic Avenue was included.
Ms. Klughers said in Thursday’s meeting that Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc had forwarded her e-mails that the town board had received from the public concerning this issue, but that they mentioned solely Indian Wells as the problem beach in the town. “They were clear in their e-mails that they were in favor of banning at Indian Wells, but not at Atlantic,” she said.
Mr. Schultz, who is in favor of the ban, spoke after Ms. Klughers and said “I agree, this is an Indian Wells problem, for now.”
In an interview on Tuesday, East Hampton Town Trustee Clerk Diane McNally said that the town board had included the beach at Atlantic Avenue into this law “just because of its close proximity” to Indian Wells.
Ms. McNally said that the Trustees “were hoping that the issues of public intoxication or disorderly conduct could be addressed in another fashion instead of a new law.” What the alternative could be, however, she was “not clear on,” she said.
“We want to just be sure that we’re not going to inadvertently cause more problems,” she said.
Diane Walker spoke out in favor of the ban on Thursday: “The East Hampton Town Trustees who are the property managers for our beaches want peace and good order,” she said. The East Hampton Town Trustees are conditioned to be defensive about their jurisdictions. The East Hampton Town Trustees sometimes lose perspective. What must be agreed upon is a good faith experiment to restore peace and good order at Atlantic and Indian Wells Beaches.
Ms. Walker suggested a mobile court to allow arrests to be adjudicated at the scene.
The town board and the Trustees will continue their discussions over the coming weeks, according to Ms. McNally.