New fees, rules established for State Beach
New requests for the use of Joseph A. Sylvia State Beach prompted a new look at regulations for the popular public beach between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown.
A draft of updated regulations worked out by a sub-committee of the Dukes County Commission includes clearer guidelines for large beach parties, an increase in permit fees, and clarification of the rules for dogs on the beach. The commission, which manages the beach, has scheduled a public hearing on the new rules for 5 pm on Thursday, June 19, at the county offices.
In general, according to county officials, the rules are designed to encourage small, informal gatherings, and provide a system to monitor larger gatherings.
"We do want to encourage, and we're happy to have family barbecues and picnics," said Carlene Gatting, one of the commissioners on the beach committee that crafted the new rules. "Because it's a public beach, if there's an event going on where there are several hundred people, it would be difficult. It's just to find a balance for social events and maintaining public access, and maintaining environmental awareness."
Under the proposed rules, gatherings of fewer than 20 people or less will not need a permit from the county. They will be subject to all the usual beach rules, which have not changed substantially. Beach access is still restricted to designated walkways. Wildlife, dunes, and vegetation are still protected. Tents must be 10' x 12' or smaller. Alcoholic beverages, overnight camping, and open fires are still banned. There was some sentiment to increase fines for violating the rules, but state law limits the fine to the current level, $50 for each infraction.
"It didn't represent a deterrent, but that's the price," said county manager Russell Smith.
The new regulations define a beach event as a private gathering of 20 to 40 people between the hours of 5:30 and 8:30 pm. A group of that size will require a permit, given at the discretion of the county manager. The filing fee for the permit is $100, and a $100 cleaning deposit is required, to be refunded if the beach is left the same way it was found. The county will require that any caterer involved in the event be licensed, and that portable toilets be provided for the event, and removed promptly afterwards. Generators, amplified music, balloons and fireworks are not allowed.
Photo by Ralph Stewart
A group larger than 40 people is classified as a Special Beach Event in the proposed regulations, and permits will require a $200 filing fee and a $200 cleaning deposit. Hours for an event of this size will be restricted to 6 pm to 8 pm. Larger tents will be allowed with an additional permit, and an additional $100 fee. A police detail and liability insurance will be required. Depending on the size of the event, an arrangement may be required for transportation to the event. Permits for the larger beach gatherings will require review and permission from the county commission's beach committee. That committee is made up of three commissioners, the county manager, and the executive assistant.
County officials say the public beach must remain accessible to all during any private events, and stress that parking is not guaranteed and cannot be reserved.
Any commercial event, of any size, will require a special beach permit, and the approval of the beach committee. A commercial event is defined as an event where the applicant receives money in any way relating to use of the beach.
The permit process leaves room for discretion by county officials, depending on the size of the event, and the time of year.
While there is no upper limit on the number of people allowed, a gathering of 150 people would face a difficult hurdle, according to county officials.
"The requests the county has been getting are so varied, one size doesn't fit all," said Mr. Smith. "Nobody wanted to interfere with Grandpa's 80th birthday party. The intent is not to curtail traditional activities, but being a public beach, we can't become a venue for large weddings or corporate outings. We need to make sure expectations are realistic."
Formulation of the beach rules included a long and vigorous discussion on access for dogs. In the end, the committee said, dog rules were dictated more by federal and state law than the wishes of the committee. Various federal and state regulations protect bird habitat from dogs during the part of the season they are nesting.
Under the proposed regulations, dogs and pets would not be allowed on State Beach from April 1 to August 31. During the month of September, dogs are not allowed between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm. At all other times, animals are permitted on the beach, subject to local leash laws and regulations about cleaning up animal waste.