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|BOS discuss Duxbury Beach|
|Written by Susanna Sheehan|
|Wednesday, 10 July 2013 08:56|
The Board of Selectmen held a discussion about Duxbury Beach Monday night that touched on many topics and ideas for improvement for beach operations such as sticker sales, but agreed to keep the status quo for the time being.
The beach remains closed to over-sand vehicles as there are still piping plover chicks that cannot yet fly. The harbormaster’s department has said the beach will reopen on or before July 15, but the date is still uncertain as it depends upon the progress of the birds. However, the public beach at Duxbury Beach Park has completely re-opened.
Since the beach was closed to vehicles on June 7, selectmen said they have heard many questions and comments from the public about the beach and how it’s operated and how it can be improved.
Selectmen chairman David Madigan said he wanted to do some “myth busting” about issues concerning the beach at this meeting.
Selectmen have sought answers to issues from Harbor- master Don Beers, the Duxbury Beach Reservation, Inc., and from the Duxbury Beach Committee, a volunteer committee appointed by the town moderator. Selectmen, Town Manager René Read and Beers addressed beach sticker sales methods, revenues, over- crowding, counterfeit beach stickers, beach closings, unauthorized users, privacy tents/ camp latrines, and a veterans’ discount.
“We have heard a lot of comments about overcrowding,” Selectmen chairman David Madigan said.
Read addressed this issue, calling it “overcrowding - perception versus reality.”
Using statistics from the harbormaster’s department, Read explained that the ORV section can be reduced by as much as 60 percent when there are threatened shore birds in the area. This can reduce the amount of space each of the 500 cars has on the beach from 22 feet to only nine feet.
“Thus, the impression of “overcrowding” that may be experienced by some of the patrons visiting the beach is not necessarily the result of additional cars being allowed entry to the beach beyond the 500 vehicle limit, but rather as a result of the area between vehicles having been reduced,” said Read.
One resident disagreed with Read’s assertion that there isn’t an overcrowding problem at the beach.
“I think there are issues of overcrowding that aren’t evident from the numbers,” said Don Gunster.
Of the 500-vehicle limit, 250 residents and 250 non-res- idents are allowed. The harbor- master’s department doesn’t count cars as they enter the beach. They count them once they are on the beach and that information is then relayed to officers along the beach and at the entrance.
Selectman Ted Flynn asked Beers if his officers turn away non-residents if their 250 count has been reached even if the residents’ maximum has not been reached. Beers said yes, non-residents can be turned away.
Selectman Shawn Dahlen is also a member of the Dux- bury Beach Reservation, Inc., the organization that owns the beach and leases it to the town. He said the beach is closed ap- proximately six times a year because the vehicle capacity has been reached. The Reservation makes a report to the town’s conservation commis- sion annually about closures and other items, such as endangered species management.
Beers said the 345-space resident’s parking lot “very rarely” reaches capacity.
Dahlen said he felt that some of the complaints about the beach had more to do with people’s experience on the beach on any given day than the actual realities of the beach. But he said the way the beach sticker program is set up – with the town selling unlimited stickers to both residents and non-residents instead of limiting sales or offering a lottery system – allows people “to choose how they enjoy that experience.
Madigan also asked about the issue of unauthorized beach access and counterfeit stickers.
Beers said some people transfer beach stickers from one vehicle to another, which is not allowed, and they often get caught because his officers are experienced in telling if a sticker has been removed and replaced. He gave the instance of a beach sticker being transferred to a nanny’s car that was from Hanson or from a parent’s car to a child’s vehicle. Other people have tried to make color copies of the stickers but they didn’t have the appropriate town numbers or license plate numbers on them and they were caught. One non-resident who was moving from the area posted his sticker on Ebay where it was sold and later detected by harbormaster officers.
“Both residents and non- residents are guilty” of committing sticker fraud said Beers.
Beers said that in recent years, the problems his department has faced have made them savvier to people abusing beach sticker rules.
“We have created permits that are hard to counterfeit but what has happened in recent years has opened our eyes,” said Beers. “There are a lot of different things that happen out there.”
The harbormaster department gives out an average of 160 citations per year, which equals $5,000 to $6,000 in fines, said Beers.
Phil Thorn of the Dux- bury Beach Committee told selectmen there is a problem with people without stickers parking illegally in the resi- dent’s parking lot. On the last weekend in June, he said he counted between 25 to 30 cars in the parking lot and four did not have stickers. One had an out of state plate, one had a red sticker and two had no permits at all.
Beers acknowledged that there are cars without permits in the residents’ lot. He said he has a list of 35 different groups that are authorized to use the beach without stickers, such as piping plover monitors, camp programs, Audubon officials and others. And last year the town ran out of permits and issued placards to cars. Beers said that this year, some au- thorized users such as plover monitors, have been given placards to identify their cars.
Selectmen asked Beers if he had investigated whether an electronic monitoring system would work to better count stickers and prevent illegal access to the beach and park- ing lots. Beers said he has not looked into any such devices but Executive Officer Jake Emerson said it’s hard to track cars coming and going because there are so many ways onto and off the beach. All three crossovers would have to have a tracking system, he said, as would the access roads from Marshfield and Plymouth.
Beers also answered questions from the selectmen regarding camp latrines, also known as privacy tents, which have started becoming popular on the vehicle beach in recent years.
“They first started to appear two years ago,” said Beers. “There were two complaints to the Board of Health about them last July. There have been maybe six tents, max. Fifty percent are used for privacy, for changing. The other 50 percent are used as camp latrines.”
Some beach goers then throw out the bags of excrement into the town’s trash barrels or sometimes into the portable toilets at the first and second crossovers.
Beers said he is fine with people using these latrines: “We end up taking the bags out of the trash barrels. We inspect them. We don’t have any problem with them. They take the stress off the porta-potties we have out there.”
In addition to the bags of waste, Beers said his department deals with as many as 45 bags of trash that must be hauled off the beach during busy weekends.
The beach closures and refund program are expected to impact beach sticker revenues for the current budget, according to Finance Director John Madden. Madden said he is not worried about the fiscal year that just ended on June 30.
In 2012, the town received $1.7 million from selling 9,000 beach stickers. For FY2013, the last fiscal year, Madden conservatively estimated the town would take in $1.5 million in revenue from permits. The actual figure was over $1.54 million but less than 8,000 stickers were sold. With the 392 stickers that were returned and the refund program paying out over $110,000, that total revenue figure is closer to $1.4 million.
Madden is concerned about how the sticker sales and refunds will affect the FY14 budget, which began July 1 and ends next June. Sales of stickers in July and August are part of this budget but the beach closure has not affected them so far.
Also, Madden is worried that many people who normally buy their stickers in April, May and June of 2014 will wait to see if there are as extensive beach closures for the next year. Selectmen said they will consider reinstituting the discount program for mail-in stickers that was discontinued in recent years. They will also ask the fiscal advisory committee to consider offering a sticker discount to Duxbury residents who are veterans. The discount would be the same as the one offered to senior citizens. The beach committee supports this discount.
Officials are still hopeful they can recoup lost sticker sales after the beach opens, which will be “sometime between this minute and July 15,” said Beers.