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Dec 8, 2009 2:03 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Village Board asks for community help to enforce beach laws

Dec 8, 2009 2:03 PM

After an influx of complaints to the East Hampton Village Board of Trustees over talk of increased beach restrictions for dog owners, the board hopes to create a community-led committee to brainstorm solutions.

Recently, the board has discussed extending the hours that dogs are prohibited from the beach and instating a leash law. After that initial discussion at a November work session, Village Administrator Larry Cantwell said he has received about 100 e-mails from community members opposing any change to the current village code.

At the board’s work session on Thursday, members heard from representatives of the group Beach Dogs who said they would be willing to help improve beach conditions without imposing further restrictions on dogs.

“What we need is better signage, higher fines and beach manners,” said Beach Dogs member Kathryn Staley. She said volunteers from the organization would be willing to fund and distribute pamphlets during the summer that would remind beachgoers of the proper etiquette for controlling their dogs.

Seven people spoke at the meeting and generally agreed that dogs are not a problem, and that what’s needed is stronger enforcement, not new laws. Village resident Jenny Berkeley said she heard from members of the Animal Rescue Fund who are willing to hold training sessions on how residents can “self-police” the beaches.

“The public has become a bit slack,” said resident Jenny Berkeley. “It’s a privilege to be able to bring our dogs on the beaches. It’s a very important quality-of-life issue.”

Many of the people who spoke reported cleaning up after other dogs, but said it was not a problem they ran across frequently, and that in general, they didn’t think dogs presented an inconvenience to others.

Mayor Paul Rickenbach said the board recognized that the majority of the village residents were respectful of beach laws but that a minority that takes advantage of the lenient laws was becoming a problem.

“That is the small percentile that we are trying to bring into compliance and educate,” he said.

Trustee Richard Lawler said that a large number of the e-mails the board received on the issue were from non-village residents, which shows that people are coming from other parts of town to village beaches because the current restrictions are the most relaxed in the area.

“That’s going to continue and it’s going to get worse,” he said. “Something needs to be done.”

David Caldwell, of Amagansett, said the board would be making a mistake in instituting tougher restrictions because in his experience dogs that are leashed are often more aggressive. He said he doesn’t find dogs to be a problem on the beaches or in the village under the current code. He expressed concern that the board would make a decision based on one point of view.

“You hear complaints from people who don’t like something on the beach. Nobody ever e-mails you to say, ‘Hey, this is great,’” he said. “You guys get a view that’s slanted, it’s only the negative.”

Mr. Lawler said that at least three members of the board, himself included, were regular beachgoers and that the board was not operating from “within a vacuum.”

He assured everyone present that the board did not intend to create laws where they aren’t needed.

“I think we’ve shown that to you by being open to suggestions,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Barbara Borsack, who spearheaded the discussion on problems with dogs at the beach at the board’s last work session, said she thought forming a committee was the appropriate way to deal with the issue.

Beach fires

The board also heard from Edward McDonald, village beach manager, for the second time on beach fires. At the last work session, board members expressed concern that beach fires had also become a problem in the village because people were not cleaning up after themselves, and hot wood and coals pose a danger to beachgoers the following morning.

Though the idea of requiring permits for beach fires was previously considered, the board abandoned that idea on Thursday and instead focused on the idea of requiring residents to purchase and use a fire stand.

Mr. McDonald said the containers are currently on sale at Hildreth’s, though they were temporarily sold out on Thursday, and that the village could see that they were also available.

Mayor Rickenbach said, if required, the fire stands would make beach fire enforcement easier because anyone whose fire was not contained would receive a summons on the spot.

“It would give us a better opportunity to enforce that particular ordinance,” he said.

At a community member’s suggestion, Mayor Rickenbach said he would also like to look into the possibility of the containers being available for rent.

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