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Jul 1, 2019 2:51 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Trustees Feel The Heat After Picnic Area And Part Of Shinnecock East County Park Are Closed Due To Piping Plovers

The Village of Southampton is providing shuttle service to the Picnic Area to those who have trouble getting onto the beach while it is closed to four-wheel-drive vehicle. GREG WEHNER
Jul 2, 2019 12:49 PM

The Picnic Area—a popular drive-on beach in Southampton Village—was closed to beach driving on June 25, just before one of the busiest weeks of the year, when families and friends head down to the sandy shore to celebrate Independence Day.

The nearly 2,000-foot stretch of beach, which is typically the only area in Southampton Town where four-wheel-drive enthusiasts are permitted to drive onto the beach during the day in the summer, was closed after three piping plover nests with eggs were spotted in the area.

The Southampton Town Trustees operate a program that protects and manages endangered plants and animals, including least terns and piping plovers.

Under the Federal Endangered Species Act, the birds, whether threatened or endangered, are protected, and guidelines set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggest fencing be erected approximately 1,000 meters on each side of the nests from the toe of the dune to the water’s edge when birds are reproducing.

The structures are put in place to prevent beach drivers from accidentally hitting the baby chicks. Once the tiny birds—often described as looking like cotton balls on toothpicks—hatch, they are unable to fly until they are 25 to 35 days old. Until they take to the air, the baby plovers are responsible for finding their own food within the first hours of hatching, and then run back and forth between the sand and the ocean.

Ultimately, a 2,000-meter section of beach is blocked off, but the Trustees are not the only agency that abides by the guidelines.

The Suffolk County Parks Department has blocked off a big portion of the ocean-facing beach at Shinnecock East County Park to vehicles, and has closed 19 campsites, as a result of the piping plover presence.

Residents upset with the closure of the Picnic Area attended a Town Trustees work session on Wednesday, June 26, and voiced their concerns.

“This is the largest closure that we have ever seen,” Kristin White, secretary of the Southampton Association for Beach Access, a group that supports beach driving, told the Trustees. “Unless you can give us hard numbers that prove the birds are up in that many numbers, or the nests are up in that many numbers, you’re going to have a lot of explaining to do to say why all of this beach is closed when it has not been closed in the past.”

She said nearly all of the beaches that residents have the ability to drive on are closed, and questioned whether the number of birds are up or down. Ms. White also asked the Trustees if they were planning to give refunds or rebates to those who paid for beach passes this year, because they do not have anywhere to drive.

Francis Adamczeski of Southampton Village also voiced his concern with the beach closures, saying Tiana Beach was closed to driving but had been raked the week before.

His suggestion to the Trustees was to tell the residents where the plover nests are and then find another area for people to drive onto the beach for the time being.

“We want to be able to enjoy our beaches … to drive on the beaches,” Mr. Adamczeski said.

The Trustees remained fairly quiet on the matter, and Trustee President Ed Warner said the board would write down the questions and concerns of every person who spoke, and address them at the board’s next meeting scheduled for July 9. On Tuesday, Mr. Warner said the Trustees would also address the questions during a special meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. that day.

“This is a shared resource between us and the birds, and we take monitoring very seriously,” he said of the beach. “We fight very hard, and I take this seriously. It’s a privilege to drive on the beach—it’s not our right.”

Mr. Warner said the Trustees worked with the Village of Southampton to come up with a solution to get people to and from the beach and allow them to continue to access the beach, even if only by foot.

On Monday, former Southampton Village Mayor Michael Irving said the village has opened the helicopter pad parking lot, which is normally open only to village residents, to those with 4x4 beach driving stickers.

The village also purchased a small off-road vehicle that can carry four passengers, so they can provide shuttle service to and from the beach. The service is open to anyone who may be elderly, have mobility problems or has trouble getting to the beach.

The shuttle will operate from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as holidays.

Mr. Irving said he would not consider opening the “lettered roads” to parking. The roads—each of which bears a letter of the alphabet as a name—run between Halsey Neck Road and the Shinnecock East Park.

In 1956, the Trustees deeded the lettered roads to the Village of Southampton for $10, with a reverter clause in place to ensure that the seven roads, Road A through Road G, remained open for the public to access the beach.

Despite not allowing parking on the roads, which are mostly sand, Mr. Irving maintains that the roads remain open for people to walk on and access the beach.

Mr. Warner said this is the first time the plovers have nested in the Picnic Area, as far as he knows, and the last thing he wants to see is the birds harmed or killed. If they are, he said, federal officials could take away beach driving on all 26 miles of the easement that the Trustees hold.

This is not the first time access to the Picnic Area has been threatened. Three years ago, homeowners along Meadow Lane, who live near the drive on the beach, filed a lawsuit against the Trustees, the Village of Southampton and the State Department of Environmental Conservation, claiming the beach behind their homes was treated differently from other beaches in the town. The Picnic Area is the only beach in the town that allows driving between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, Southampton Village’s then-mayor, Mark Epley, proposed limiting the number of vehicles that could drive on the beach at a time. The proposal was put on the back burner and has not been revisited.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, guidelines are in place to allow the endangered birds to increase in numbers. One of the targets they shoot for is to make sure the population can be maintained. Over the course of five years, it wants to see an average of 1.5 chicks per pair.

The Wildlife Service also wants to ensure the birds have safe places to nest in the future, which is done through long-term agreements with beach managers and landowners.

A document from the wildlife service states that the goal is to increase and maintain the population breeding pairs of plovers to 2,000 for five years.

“We are under a lot of pressure,” Southampton Town Trustee Scott Horowitz said. “We’re watching this on a daily basis to try to manage this.”

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limiting access to 4x4's due to plover nesting is a short term problem.
not allowing for parking at the lettered roads is a bigger problem (with a much more simple solution).
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on Jul 1, 19 4:49 PM
1 member liked this comment
Park on the trustee road s. The village trustees and town trustees have never formally resolved this issues. Irving. Is no longer the mayor (��)
If you didn’t forget. This first week I. Office he had two poles of sand dumped on Road A.
One plover hatched. On Saturday. And the days are being counted down for our tradition use of the beach
By Local247 (39), Southampton on Jul 1, 19 4:54 PM
1 member liked this comment
The pile of sand dumped on Road A was quickly spread out by 2 very pissed off guys with 2 shovels :) ! There's a Trustee meeting tomorrow , Tuesday, at 4:00 PM , to address the plover issue, it's imperative that all who use our beaches make every effort to attend and ask some questions. Kristin had a good point , is there a drastic increase in nests this year? Are they strategically placed along the Town ocean beaches in such a way as to require the shut down of damn near ALL 4x4 access? Where are ...more
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Jul 1, 19 5:11 PM
1 member liked this comment
Taste like chicken.
By zeke (40), southampton on Jul 2, 19 7:03 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By themarlinspike (542), Northern Hemisphere on Jul 2, 19 8:59 AM
so, if these piping plovers are so precious and they find it necessary to close areas to allow for reproduction, why are these big ugly homes allowed to be built on the dunes? i remember quite well when you could walk over hill and dale out on dune road in the mid seventies when there were no houses built west of the area across from the shinnecock reservation. there were plover nests all over the dunes not just to the seaward side of where these big ugly homes are. it is just fine to remove ...more
By sstorch (49), water milll on Jul 4, 19 7:10 AM
2 members liked this comment
the nests are moved by the bird watchers aka activists. This is a well known fact and they have been caught red handed by lifeguards. They move the birds where they don't want people to have fun.
By politcal pawn (121), Flanders on Jul 4, 19 11:12 AM
If so, the idiots handling the eggs have committed a crime and should be publicly FLOGGED!
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Jul 4, 19 11:19 AM
At the Trustee meeting last Tuesday a resolution was PASSED that allows vehicles with both a Town and Village 4x4 permit to be parked in the AGAWAM lot!!!! Not the same as driving on to our beach but still better than schlepping all your stuff over the dunes. The beach is open for 4x4 access before 9: AM and after 6:00 PM just drive out in front of the Bathing Corp, set up all your stuff, grill, table, chairs , umbrellas before 9 park at Agawam and drive on after 6 to retrieve it. HAPPY 4th one ...more
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Jul 4, 19 11:27 AM
1 member liked this comment
These areas should be kept closed
By deKooning (106), southampton on Jul 5, 19 8:33 AM