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|Reinvigorated Beach Committee Tackles Current Issues|
|Written by Susanna Sheehan|
|Wednesday, 24 July 2013 10:59|
The recent over-sand ve hicle closures at Duxbury Beach have prompted many people to question the way the town manages the beach and the Duxbury Beach committee has been tasked with the job of studying some of these issues, such as overcrowding, parking enforcement and an electronic sticker counting program.
Last week, the beach committee met with Town Manager René Read, Harbormaster Don Beers, Duxbury Beach Reser- vation Inc. president Margaret Kearney and other Reserva- tion trustees and members of the public. The beach committee is a 12-member volunteer board appointed by the town moderator to advise town officials on the use and management of Duxbury Beach, which the town leases from the Reservation. It is also charged with overseeing the maintenance of the Powder Point Bridge. Its duties are listed in the town bylaws. The beach committee had been dormant for a few years, but the recent controversy surrounding the beach closures has breathed new life into the board.
Read addressed the issue of overcrowding, saying beach stickers are available on an unlimited basis with no cap on the number of stick- ers sold to either residents or non-residents. The restrictions on access have to do with the number of cars allowed on the off-road vehicle area of the beach. The Duxbury Beach Habitat and Conservation and Management plan sets a maximum capacity of 500 vehicles on the beach and divides this number into 250 for each residents and non-residents.
Read said the beach can feel crowded when the off-road vehicle area is decreased due to either endangered shorebird restrictions or natural conditions such as very high tides.
There are over 11,000 linear feet for ORV access, said Read, which translate into a space of 22 feet per vehicle. This area is impacted annually by the presence of endangered species, which can restrict ORV access by up to 60 percent, leaving only nine feet per vehicle and leading to the feeling of overcrowding, said Read.
“Some people will feel that nine feet is too close,” said Read. “It’s very subjective. How close is too close?”
Nine feet is the standard measurement for commercial parking spaces, he said.
Read used a flip chart to illustrate an idea of creating a standard spacing of 20 feet per vehicle to address the feeling of overcrowding. However, he said, if a 20-foot standard is used, the number of cars
that can access the beach decreases if the ORV section is reduced for any reason. As an example, if the ORV area is reduced by 40 percent, only 332 cars would be allowed on the beach. If it decreases by 60 percent, then only 222 vehicles could access the beach. That translates into 111 non- residents and 111 residents, he said.
“I’m not here to recommend this,” Read said. “I’m here to illustrate this.”
Reducing the number of cars on the beach would ultimately result in reduced revenues for the town, said Read.
The town expected to take in $1.5 million in revenues for stickers sales for the fiscal year that ended June 30. However, it realized approximately $1.4 million as the town is- sued $110,000 in beach sticker refunds due to the complete closure of the ORV area for five weeks from an abundance of piping plover nests.
One issue that upsets many permit holders is how the beach is closed after it reaches capacity, which usually happens early on weekends. Harbormaster Don Beers said that on Sunday, July 14 – the first Sunday after the beach was re- opened the ORV area beach was closed to non-residents at 11 am. The beach vehicle count sheet he gave to the committee showed that at 10 a.m., 63 residents and 110 non-residents were on the ORV section. By 11 a.m., that number had risen to 99 residents and 251 non- residents. At noon, there were 250 non-residents and 202 residents, for the day’s high total of 452.
The beach was closed to non-residents at 10:46 a.m. and reopened to them at 2:12 p.m. Beers said that this was a long closure compared to the usual one to one-and-a- half hour closures. The beach “rarely” closes to residents, he said, adding that it was closed only once last year to residents due to a very high tide.
In comparison, the residents parking lot was 70 percent full that Sunday.
The beach committee discussed the idea of creat- ing stickers with bar codes so that the harbormaster’s office could use a hand held scanner to scan vehicles coming onto the beach. This would give them information about how many people arrived at the beach and the number of residents and non-residents as well.
Beers said he currently has no way of knowing how many vehicles arrive at the beach and how many leave. The only cars that are counted are the ones on the ORV area after they are parked at the beach. The residents’ parking lot contains 345 spaces and it rarely reaches capacity, he said. The harbormaster employees estimate the percentage this lot is filled and list it on a beach vehicle count sheet.
If the town were able to scan stickers on vehicles leaving the ORV area at the three crossovers, it could have a better idea of when the beach reaches capacity and when it dips under the maximum.
“What you may find with a scanning system is that you have a more precise moment in time when you reach capacity,” said Read.
Read said his preliminary research turned up some beaches, such as one in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that use barcode stickers. The beach committee agreed to investigate scanners for stickers.
“I think the data collection aspect to it is interesting,” said beach committee chairman Susan Rourke. “The town is vulnerable on the revenue side if we don’t try to service the customer a little better.”
The committee also discussed enforcement of the current parking rules. Beers said that while some people do slip onto the ORV section without stickers, he writes “90 percent” of the motor vehicle trespass tickets are in the residents lot.
Read said if the harbormasters are spending so much time policing parking, they have less time to enforce other rules at the beach.
The committee also talked about alcohol and small fires on the beach. Drinking alcohol at the beach is prohibited under the town’s bylaws. However, members of the beach committee and others at the meeting said that over the years, they have noticed more blatant public drinking and less use of the old standard red “Solo” cup.
“I don’t think that many people know we are an alcohol-free beach,” said Kearney.
Rourke said overt alcohol use and other related issues are some of the things the beach committee hears about frequently. She said these topics pertain to “the neighborliness” of the beach.
Beach committee member Matt Ali questioned Beers about what type of fires are allowed at the beach. The rules allow only small cooking fires in a metal container, not bonfires with wooden logs built right on the sand. Beers said that type of beach fire is prohibited by the state fire code.
Kearney praised Beers for leaving the second crossover in the ORV area open to vehicles until 11 p.m. Beers explained that his department has had to close the second crossover at 8 p.m. for years because of the endangered shorebirds in the area that are not monitored after dark. Now that the majority of them have had their babies and left their nests, the area can be re-opened.
In an effort to give the public more information about how the beach is managed, Kearney said the Reservation is paying to have the Duxbury Beach Habitat and Conserva- tion and Management plan scanned and put on-line. She saiditisaprocessasitisa large document with many maps in it.
The Beach Committee plans to expand its public outreach in order to better un- derstand issues the public are experiencing at the beach. It encourages comments and can be reached at duxburybeach- email@example.com. The committee meets monthly at the library.