County creates beach patrol

Two seasonal positions are intended to fill void left by sheriff’s department departure.

State Beach is one of the beaches the county is looking to patrol this summer looking for parking scofflaws. - File photo

In February, Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden ended a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Dukes County to obtain roughly $165,000 in alarm fee revenue for his cash-strapped emergency communications center. The termination of the MOU also eliminated sheriff’s department summer patrols of county-owned beaches — State Beach, Norton Point Beach, and Eastville Beach — for the coming summer.
In FY19, the county will address the bulk of the financial shortfall by reallocating a $150,000 voluntary OPEB (other post-employment benefits) contribution.

To make up for the loss of the beach patrol, the county has created two seasonal positions for “summer beach patrol.” According to the job description, patrollers will be responsible for “issuing parking tickets on State Beach and a variety of general custodial and maintenance functions,” from June 30 through Labor Day.
The Dukes County Commission and the county advisory board approved an amendment to add $15,000 to the natural resources department to cover the cost of the patrol.

The program is off to a slow start.

According to Dukes County manager Martina Thornton, only one person has applied for the job since it was first posted in The MV Times on April 17. “We need to expand our applicant pool, so we’re going to keep advertising,” she said.

Thornton said she has been in touch with local police about providing training for beach patrollers, which will be similar to the training of summer traffic officers.
When a similar program was attempted in 2006, Dukes County engineer Stephen Berlucchi was sworn in as deputy sheriff.

For this go-round, Thornton said that Massachusetts General Law empowers county “designees” to enforce “noncriminal disposition of rules and regulations.”

Parking tickets will be issued on Beach Road, along State Beach. “Because of the shortage of parking during the summer, many times people park in the dunes,” Thornton said. “They see a little opening and park perpendicular to the road, right into the dunes.”

Most beach infractions — dog on the beach, open container, use of charcoal grill, littering — are $50. Tickets for parking in the wrong direction along State Road, which caused a ruckus in 2006, will be a $25 fine.

Conservation and education
Thornton said she wants the beach patrol to have an educational purpose as well. “We will have people trained on the basics of not only county rules but also conservation, what we’re trying to protect,” Thornton said. “I want that person not just to be issuing parking tickets but also educating the public why we’re doing it, why there are bird enclosures, why we have snow fences and beachgrass to protect the dunes. I would like it to be more educational than enforcement.”

Sengie Beach along Beach Road will also be under beach patrol purview.

Only people with valid shellfish permits will be allowed to drive on Sengie Beach in July and August.

Beach patrol officers will have the authority to check for shellfish permits.
The new rule is in response to the party scene that took root on Sengie shores last summer during Norton Point plover closures. Earlier in the year, the county proposed a ban on all vehicles except shellfish department vehicles.

Members of the Oak Bluffs shellfish committee strongly opposed the restriction because it would have required shellfishermen to carry their catch long distances, and would be particularly problematic for elderly permitholders.

“We just had 10 signs made that will state it’s only for people with shellfish permits who are actively shellfishing,” Thornton said. “They’re ironing out the details, but we’ll have a fence or chain [at vehicle access points]. People shellfishing will have to physically take the chain down, drive in and then put it back up, so the regular tourists don’t decide they can use it.”

At a Jan. 10 selectmen’s meeting, Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake said that if the county installed proper signage, he felt confident his officers could enforce the vehicle ban.
“I appreciate Chief Blake’s offer; as I told Brian Packish and members of the shellfish committee at our barrier beach task force meeting, I am looking for physical barrier,” Thornton said. “I know from experience the signs will not prevent anybody from doing these violations. For police to come, it would take someone violating the rules. I’d like to prevent those violations in the first place. It should not affect people who are shellfishing. But if you have a shellfishing permit and you are just sitting there sunbathing, you will be asked to leave.”