Dukes County commissioners discussed the possibility of charging off-Island visitors a fee for parking at State Beach at a meeting held Wednesday, Oct. 2.
Commissioner Christine Todd said revenue from paid parking at State Beach could be used to fund restroom facilities at various Island beaches.
Todd mentioned Eastville Beach and Inkwell Beach as locations that would benefit greatly from public restrooms. She said the Oak Bluffs parks committee did a one-day test with porta-potties in Waban Park, across from Inkwell Beach. “There were some benefits and some drawbacks to that test,” Todd said.
She said not only did abutters of Waban Park object to porta-potties anywhere within their line of sight, but she also said it would be nearly impossible to limit the use of facilities to only beachgoers.
“If you don’t have porta-potties in those areas, the alternative is to install more substantial facilities with running water that are tied into the wastewater system,” Todd said.
She said making a significant investment in more advanced (and aesthetically pleasing) facilities would maintain the natural beauty of the Island and be a better long-term option for the Island.
“If we don’t want to take away from the aesthetics and natural integrity of Island beaches, we may need to make much more of an investment than just porta-potties,” Todd said. “It all boils down to money. Unless we are exploring new ways to generate revenue or reappropriating current revenue, this isn’t going anywhere.”
Todd said the Island is an outlier when it comes to not charging for beach parking, and that many other towns in the commonwealth implemented a pay-to-park system years ago.
She said pay-to-park beaches in places like Provincetown and Rhode Island generate significant revenue, and are tailor-fitted to accommodate different populations from on-season to off-season. “Paid parking is common in other seaside communities,” Todd reiterated.
She said a year-round resident of the Vineyard could have a sticker for the entire year that exempts them from having to pay a parking meter. “These facilities would be serving a community that is really only here two months out of the year,” Todd said.
Commissioners did not decide the method by which paid parking would be implemented, but suggested metered parking, alongside stickers for either a full day, full season, or for year-round Island residents.
“I am in full agreement we should be charging for parking on State Beach,” commissioner Keith Chatinover said.
He agreed that Islanders should not have to pay, and should be able to get a free sticker.
“This could be a huge revenue source for not just the facilities at the beaches, but it will probably generate even more than that,” Chatinover said. “We shouldn’t make Islanders pay, because we aren’t the ones who are making the facilities necessary.”
Chatinover suggested working in concert with local officials in Provincetown to see how their methods might translate to the Vineyard community.
County manager Martina Thornton reminded the commission that State Beach is not county-owned property, but instead is a state-owned park that the county manages.
“We need to have that clarification about what point we can be imposing fees if there is already an established state structure we should be following,” Thornton said.
But Todd said both Provincetown beaches and beaches at Misquamicut in Rhode Island are state-owned, and they charge a fee.
Commissioner Tristan Israel said it is necessary to talk with the state about how the percentage of fee revenue might be divided between individual towns and the state.
“If we are going to charge, do we get all that money, or does the state take a cut? Let’s find that out first,” Israel said. “If the state gets all that money, then I don’t want to do it.”
Commission chair Gretchen Tucker-Underwood said the citizens of the Island need to be included in the conversation throughout the conceptual planning process.
“Not only that, but you will be legally required to hold a public hearing,” Thornton said. “Every time we are thinking of imposing a new fee, we have to hold a public hearing.”
Thornton said the commission can publicize the conversation at their next meeting, but before a public hearing the county must print the proposed rates in the newspaper.
She said setting a rate is only one technical aspect of charging for parking at State Beach.
“There are meters, administration costs, parking attendants — there are lots of different elements involved with this,” Thornton said.
Commissioner Leon Braithwaite also mentioned that if the town does impose a parking fee, fewer seasonal visitors will leave the beach throughout the day.
“Once you have stickers that let you park for the day, folks will stay the whole day instead of just staying for a few hours. You will have less of a flow of people coming and going,” Braithwaite said.
Whether or not the towns decide to build beachside facilities, Todd said charging for parking at State Beach would provide a necessary revenue stream for the Island, and would be in line with what other similar coastal communities are doing.
“This could be a huge benefit to the Island. Most other beach towns are doing it, so why can’t we?” Todd said.