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Southold plans immediate steps to address beach parking issues

A no parking sign in New Suffolk. Photo: Katharine Schroeder

In an attempt to swiftly deal with issues of beach parking in New Suffolk before the busy summer season ends, the Southold Town Board held a special meeting this afternoon and will activate three changes immediately.

  • No more non-resident day passes will be sold at New Suffolk beach and any day passes sold at other beaches will be labeled with the place they were purchased and can only be used there.
  • Southold Town Police Department will step up patrols at area beaches, including adding an early morning detail at New Suffolk beach to deter people from parking in the lot before the attendants are on duty to check permits, as suggested by Councilman Jim Dinizio.
  • No more plea bargaining on tickets. The fine for parking illegally at a town beach is $75 and that will be strictly enforced.

The town will also provide a sign for attendants to display when the New Suffolk beach parking lot is full.

Although the board addressed New Suffolk specifically in response to the outcry at last week’s Town Board meeting, Supervisor Scott Russell was quick to point out that problems are occurring at beaches throughout Southold Town and that they will be addressed in a timely manner. Two of the three new actions will affect all town beaches: increased police enforcement and eliminating plea bargaining on tickets.

The board also plans to take action for the future by writing new legislation and budgeting for additional enforcement officers and beach attendants to accommodate the growing number of people visiting the North Fork during the summer.

Originally scheduled to be a regular meeting, Russell asked that the board hold a roundtable work session instead, and no one objected.

The board discusses parking and beach access issues. Photo: Katharine Schroeder

“It would be more productive to use this format in order to identify issues and discuss them with department heads,” he said.

The board did allow several people in the audience to speak, however.

Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley attended the meeting to answer questions about how the town is enforcing parking and beach regulations.

“We employ seven traffic control officers for the summer months,” said Flatley. “Their main duties are to help us out directing traffic at special events throughout the town and also to do enforcement of beach parking at all the different road ends and at town beaches.”

Flatley acknowledged that enforcement at beaches has not been as aggressive as it could be during the past few weeks due to events such as the Strawberry Festival, the lavender farm bloom and several festivals. He assured the board that enforcement will be stepped up in the coming weeks as his officers are freed from special event duties.

On a normal weekend, the police department issues between 100 and 120 tickets at town beaches, according to Flatley.  There are 59 road ends and three or four town beaches that have to be monitored.

“I think you’ll see a marked improvement for the remainder of the summer,” he said.

Councilman Bill Ruland brought up the fact that there are a lot of visitors who are willing to pay for the ticket to enjoy a day at the beach.

“People are willing to pay a huge sum of money to do something illegal,” he said.

He introduced the idea of towing cars that are parked illegally; Chief Flatley pointed out that doing that brings other problems into play, such as where to store the towed cars, who will tow them and the possibility of confrontations taking place.

The board discussed adding additional personnel, but that is not an immediate solution as the money would have to be budgeted for that.

Councilwoman Jill Doherty said that the town needs to send a clear message.

“You have to pay to use our ramps. You have to pay to use our beaches and if you get caught you’re going to get ticketed.”

“We’re going to need to put a lot more money into this area,” she said.

Russell agreed that many of these issues could be solved with additional personnel.

The board also discussed revisiting the laws concerning non-resident seasonal fishing permits and nighttime fishing. Police have difficulty monitoring people who have fishing permits but no parking permits, Flatley said. Officers are unable to remove people from beaches when they’re set up below the high tide mark, which is public property.

Southold public works director Jeff Standish said some issues, such as the abuse of town garbage barrels, are the worst he’s ever seen.

“Monday mornings are a disaster,” he said. “Garbage everywhere.”

Many of the garbage problems are caused by people dumping household garbage into town cans. The gulls and crows rip bags open and garbage is strewn all along the roads and beaches, he said.

He suggested that the town begin enforcing the $1,000 fine for violations.

After nearly two hours of discussion, the work session wrapped up with a promise from Russell to hold another meeting to discuss additional issues and concerns anyone might have.

Katharine is a writer and photographer who has lived on the North Fork for nearly 40 years, except for three-plus years in Hong Kong a decade ago, working for the actor Jackie Chan. She lives in Cutchogue. Email Katharine