Note: A previous version of this article erroneously attributed quotes from Elaine Trainor to fellow commission member Aly Oakley. This version has been corrected.
NEWPORT — Despite concerns Newport Volleyball Club would lose space on Easton’s Beach, which has hosted the group’s tournaments for nearly 25 years, the Beach Commission and the club have worked out an agreement to manage the increasing crowds and keep the tournaments at the same time.
“Our only discussion here is the balance,” Commissioner Scott Skuncik said. “We’re not debating whether you’re going to be on the beach or not, we’re talking 16 nets or 20, which side of the beach you’re going to be on and how we preserve access…it’s not an existential discussion about your presence, but we have to balance the attendance of the beach, which we see is increasing, with your activities which are also very popular.”
Last month, the Beach Commission met with representatives from Newport Volleyball Club to propose ways to reduce the number of people on Easton’s Beach during the club’s annual volleyball tournaments. The club has held these tournaments on Saturdays throughout the summer months for the past 25 years, but recent increases in beach attendance made managing these crowds more difficult for beach staff.
Newport Volleyball came to an agreement with the Recreation Department during that meeting on July 14 which, among other things, would shift the location of the tournament away from busier sections of the beach to increase available space for casual beach-goers. The department was worried the tournament was pushing beach attendees closer to an unsafe creek on the easterly end of the Beach.
On July 23, the tournament held on Easton’s Beach had shifted away, but Newport Recreation Administrator Erik Reis said the club increased the number of nets for the tournament from the typical 15-to-16 to the maximum 20 allowed in their agreement, therefore increasing the foot traffic to the beach and around the tournament area.
“What that did to us, I don’t know if you noticed it, was it compounded the beach operations and made that parking lot, all of our parking lots, standstill for four hours from 11 to 3,” Reis said. “We had to dedicate staff, a ton of staff, to work in that parking lot and manage the operation, which takes away from having people clean the bathrooms or float around and take care of trash or have eyes on the beach, so it was kind of a blow to me that we were trying to figure out a balance and, all of a sudden, we added more on a heatwave day.”
In response, the Recreation Commission limited the number of nets the club could set up for its tournament the following weekend, which Newport Volleyball Club president Chris Carr said came “without significant communication” between the city and the club.
The Beach Commission met with Newport Volleyball Club again on Wednesday to sort out the issues the recreation department has been having with the tournaments and see whether they could amend the agreement to limit the number of nets the club can set up on a given day.
“Beach volleyball should not impact our operations at the end of the day,” Reis said. “Those additional five nets, however more people are coming to the tournament, somewhere there’s a correlation.”
Carr said the club could make a 16-net limit work, but they would like to avoid “wholesale regulation” on their tournaments, if possible.
“It’s very difficult because, not only is that a loss of income I was not prepared for, but it also makes us feel like our relationship with the body is not as strong as we thought it was,” Carr said.
The tensions between the two bodies only increased after news of the groups’ concerns spread on social media. Carr said the volleyball community was concerned about the possibility of the tournament having to move off Easton’s Beach or be unable to continue at all if the problems with the city weren’t resolved. The club told the commission last month that most beaches will not allow tournaments on weekends, so the group has limited alternative beaches to play at.
Commission member Elaine Trainor said the media and response surrounding last month’s meeting was misleading as she felt the club and commission had reached an amicable agreement that would keep the club at Easton’s Beach.
Still, Trainor questioned whether neighboring beach towns Middletown and Portsmouth could host some of the tournament events to alleviate the pressure on Newport beach staff.
“Given the economic impact (of the tournaments) to the entire island, is there a way the commission can reach out to the towns of Middletown and Portsmouth and ask them to share the load of volleyball tournaments since neither of them seem to do so,” Trainor asked Chair Richard Klaffky. “Not that we don’t want people on the beach, but if there’s other options, we can spread it around.”
The commission plans to reach out to the City Council for them to inquire as to whether neighboring towns would be interested. The two bodies also discussed moving tournament days to Sundays, spreading the number of games played among weekend days, or playing during less crowded months such as May or September.
With two tournament weekends left in the season, the groups made a less formal agreement for the club to notify the Recreation Department on how many nets they plan to set up in the meantime so the beach staff are not caught off guard and possibly limiting the number of nets to 16 in July and August next year.
This article originally appeared on Newport Daily News: Newport Volleyball Club reaches agreement with Beach Commission