At the same time Town of East Hampton police are dealing with the large number of day-trippers in Montauk on warm, sunny weekend days, the town board is wrestling with what exactly the beaches and parks will look like this summer season.
Police Chief Michael Sarlo addressed the board April 21 on the matter, detailing how on the previous weekend, state park employees closed down some of the accesses to the state parks out in Montauk, including Shadmoor, Camp Hero, and the Montauk Lighthouse.
“That caused overflow of parking out onto the roadways,” Sarlo said. The accesses were closed because the parks were becoming too crowded for visitors to practice the required six-foot social distancing guidelines implemented by the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several officers were dispatched to the area where cars were illegally parked and issued citations.
“They are state parks, and they are state jurisdiction,” Sarlo said, meaning it is up to the state to police them. The department is stretched thin Sarlo explained: “We have over 70 miles of shoreline and over 100 access points to sand in our town. There were just a couple of locations where crowding was a problem.”
On Monday, April 27, Sarlo told The Independent “state parks had reduced parking in their big lots and closed down around 2 to 2:30 PM” this past weekend. “They did have additional state trooper and parks police presence this weekend,” he added.
The chief said April 25 was a very busy, sunny day with “lots of people outside.” His department issued 165 parking tickets town-wide, mostly for no beach permit, but some were for vehicles in no parking zones.
“Ditch Plains was packed with a good surf break forecast for Saturday morning, and officers did their best to encourage social distancing, as well as give warnings and get the word out about the parking,” Sarlo said. “We had officers on foot along Main Street most of the day and got very good compliance with social distancing and keeping masks on. People online for takeout, and even some of the groups of motorcycle riders parked along main street had masks on.”
The town announced last week it was going to start enforcing summer beach parking rules a month early.
“It’s important to note that despite all of the complaints and buzz regarding the crowds visiting Montauk, the hamlet has seen an increase of exactly one new positive COVID-19 case reported since April 10,” Sarlo said. “If people take care of following their own protocols for social distancing, wear a mask, and limit their trips for essentials, we can continue to flatten the curve for our community.”
Meanwhile, the town is anticipating what the beaches and parks will look like this summer. Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc and Councilman David Lys discussed the challenges at an April 21 town board meeting.
“The Suffolk County health department will have to be involved,” Lys said regarding social-distancing guidelines at beaches. If the beach is open, he said restrooms will have to be, too.
Both agreed even if the beaches are technically closed, people will still attempt to swim in the ocean, which leaves the potential for drowning, since there would be no lifeguards present.
All town parks, including Montauk Skate Park, and the Amagansett Youth Park, are closed. Basketball rims have been taken down. When possible, Lys said, town-owned parks will be padlocked.
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Patrolling Southampton Beaches
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said he’s feared enforcement issues at parks and beaches related to COVID-19.
Public Safety & Emergency Management Administrator Ryan Murphy said his department has not run into any issues so far.
“A bay constable said some photos of people from the public are showing more congestion on the roadways and in parking lots than on the beaches,” he said. “Sometimes there’s a misinterpretation.”
Some images of six people two feet apart sitting on the sand are of those cohabitating, which isn’t a violation.
On Instagram April 25, Southampton Village Mayor Jesse Warren said: “If you choose to go to the beach, please make sure you’re wearing a mask or face guard, and socially distance by being six feet apart.”
Swimming at state park beaches and in pools at will remain forbidden through May 31.
The State Parks Department announced last Friday that beaches will open then instead of the traditional plan, Monday, May 25, shortly before Memorial Day weekend.
Long Island’s had already been closed through May 15 with all nonessential businesses.
The parks themselves have remained open for people wishing to walk or jog, or even ride bikes in some places.
New York also suspended all new camping, cabin and cottage, and pavilion/shelter reservations for the 2020 season until further notice. If someone has made a reservation for the season beginning June 1, and the parks department says the facility is safe to open, a reservation will be honored, but visitors who wish to cancel an existing reservation may do so and receive a full refund.
In order to protect officers while limiting the spread, members of Southampton’s police department and public safety officials are wearing N95 masks and face shields, gloves, and Tyvek suits. Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki said there have been two instances, which he called the “most complicated thing for us to manage,” where officers responded to calls involving members of the public who tested positive for COVID-19.