Beachgoers question lack of bathrooms
A public hearing is scheduled this afternoon for people who want to comment on new regulations proposed for Joseph A. Sylvia State Beach, but even before the public session, some beach goers are sounding off about one aspect of the proposed plan. A permit condition which may require parties of twenty or more to provide disabled-accessible portable bathrooms has many people asking why Dukes County, which manages the beach for the state, does not provide bathroom facilities in the summer months when the beach is crowded with thousands of people.
"That's a good question," said county manager Russell Smith. "Maybe it's time we did something about it. It really wouldn't take much. It seems to make a lot of sense."
Unlike other popular public beaches on the Vineyard, there are no bathroom facilities along the two-mile stretch of beach between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. The beach is popular with families because of the fine sand, gentle waves, and nearby parking.
"You have all kinds of people complaining," said Don Thompson, a seasonal Edgartown resident whose family has been visiting State Beach for more than two decades. "I've seen a lot of kids that go up and squat in the dunes. Some people are very obvious."
Mr. Thompson said the lack of bathroom facilities often complicates, and sometimes cuts short, an otherwise enjoyable family experience when he takes his children and grandchildren to the beach.
"You leave, and then lose your parking space. Sometimes you don't go back," grumbled Mr. Thompson. "The county should be required to put portable toilets there from Memorial Day to Labor day."
While Mr. Smith cautioned there might be difficult issues involving structures on the ecologically sensitive barrier beach, he is investigating whether state grant money might be used to provide portable bathrooms. The county currently holds a multi-year grant from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which provides $30,000 for each of the next two fiscal years. Last year that grant money was used for a beach management study, plantings, a survey of beach erosion, and protection of bird habitat.
The town of Tisbury provides permanent bathroom facilities at Owen Park Beach. Oak Bluffs has two permanent facilities just off its town beach. Edgartown provides portable facilities on South Beach, and Aquinnah provides bathroom facilities a short walk from Moshup Beach. Chilmark provides a bathhouse with rest rooms and showers in Menemsha.
The proposed regulations for State Beach would require a permit for groups of 20 or more people. The cost of the permits would range from $100 to $200, depending on the size of the gathering. The county may require the group to provide one or more portable bathrooms as a condition of the permit.
The hearing on the new rules is scheduled for 5 pm this evening at the county offices near the Martha's Vineyard Airport.