SOUTHOLD, NY — With Suffolk County beaches opening Friday for Memorial Day weekend for residents only, Southold Town has also announced its beach plans as the summer season kicks off.
A residents' only mandate will stay in place for the time being, based on stringent state guidelines, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said, adding that the matter would be evaluated every few days.
According to Russell, the 13 town supervisors, along with county, state and federal representatives have been working on a beach use/ parks management plan.
"We have had several conference calls and, in fact, had one Saturday and earlier today with a representative from the governor's office," Russell said Monday. "The draft plan is near completion and will be submitted to his office later today."
Originally, Russell said, jurisdictions were putting differing restrictions in place. Some closed off access to to beaches entirely, while others allowed for passive use, which meant no beach chairs, blankets, or sitting on the sand.
Southold never closed its beaches, Russell said. "We did, however, however, restrict use to residents only when it became clear that the amount of people going was going to be too difficult to manage to reduce the COVID-19 spread."
The purpose of the plan, Russell said, is that officials want to be consistent with use regulations moving forward.
"When I renew the beach use executive order Thursday, swimming will no longer be prohibited. However, we cannot offer lifeguards or open bathroom facilities. Our goal is to have them in place prior to the July 4 holiday," he said.
In April, with an eye toward adhering to social distancing protocols during the coronavirus crisis, swimming and congregating were prohibited on Southold Town beaches, Russell announced; the measure came after crowds of cars filled town beach parking lots.
The supervisor and Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said that the residents-only mandate would be enforced.
Residents who need a beach parking sticker — the stickers cost $20 for two years — can purchase them online or at the drive-thru window, located at the Town Hall annex, on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Town Hall annex is located at 54375 Route 25 in Southold.
State, county restrictions
In Suffolk County, both Cupsogue Beach County Park in Westhampton Beach and Smith Point County Park are set to open Friday and residents will need to bring their identification or green key card.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the decision was made as Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday that New York City beaches would not be opening for Memorial Day; allowing county residents only will ensure locals can enjoy the beaches, he said.
"People will flock to the beaches and we want to make sure that when that happens, that it is in a controlled environment with safety protocols in place that allow people to be able to enjoy the beach in a safe way. As we move forward, because of the reduced capacity, and because there are a number of facilities that likely will not be opening at same time, we are reserving Suffolk County beaches at Smith Point and Cupsogue for residents only. We want to be sure that Suffolk County residents will be able to enjoy access to their beaches during this crisis period while we do have reduced capacity," he said.
Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing that all state beaches would reopen on Friday, May 22, just in time for Memorial Day weekend, as Bellone outlined new protocols for the two Suffolk beaches slated to open on Friday, too.
State and local beaches and lake shores will open the Friday before Memorial Day in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware, Cuomo announced Friday.
State protocols in place
Beaches will have to abide by several rules and regulations, Cuomo said, including remaining at no more than 50 percent capacity by controlling exits and entrances and limiting parking. Group contact activities remain banned, including sports and areas of gathering remain closed, such as picnic areas.
Bellone said on Thursday that he submitted his plan for reopening the beaches to Cuomo's office; the plan was in line with the "broad based" guidelines put together by a summer planning working group put together by the county — and including town and village elected officials and other stakeholders — and headed up by Suffolk County Deputy Executive Peter Scully.
Beaches, Bellone added, are part of the fabric of life on Long Island. "That's the reason we live here. We love our beaches. This virus has taken so much from us. We couldn't allow it to take the ability for us to go to the beach in the summer." Especially, he said, at a time when children don't have pools, movies, or amusement parks open.
What you need to know
Although the beaches will open, however, Bellone said Memorial Day weekend will "not be exactly the same as summers past."
Those going to the beach, he said, will not be playing contact sports; concession stands will be closed, he said.
Face coverings will be required while beach-goers are in public areas, such as on the boardwalk or near bathrooms, but not while sitting on towels when they are with their own families or groups or while in the water. Social distancing protocols must be followed, Bellone said.
Bathroom attendants will be onhand, cleaning the county rest rooms on a continual basis; hand sanitizer will be available for individuals to use prior to entering the county facilities, Bellone said.
Staffers at the beach will be wearing face coverings and having their temperatures taken regularly, Bellone said.
Lifeguards, he said, will be positioned one per stand and separated out to maintain the goal of social distancing, with additional lifeguards added to help reach those goals. New training is taking place on additional protocols, Bellone said.
When asked how lifeguards would respond if an individual is in trouble or drowning in the water, Bellone said, "Lifeguards will all do what they need to, to save a person's life."
In addition, beaches will have reduced capacity, taking parking and the square footage of each beach into consideration to allow for social distancing so that families can sunbathe safely without risk of spreading the virus, Bellone said.
Bay beaches will not open on Memorial Day weekend, Bellone said.
The goal, Bellone said, is to open the beaches safely.
"Even with coronavirus happening, as we are still working through a public health crisis and doing what we need to do to hit the metrics to reopen the economy, we can still have a staple of life on Long Island start for us and enable families to do something they can enjoy as an essential part of our summers on Long Island," Bellone said.