Cove Plan Would Allow Trucks on Beach; No one is satisfied with compromise

Originally published April 17, 2003

An ad hoc committee named by the East Hampton Town Board has recommended, and the town board approved unanimously on Tuesday, a plan to allow up to 24 cars to park at Turtle Cove, Montauk - 20 on the beach itself, and four just upland of the beach - for three months in the fall of the year.
The dirt road that runs from Montauk Highway to the cove would be open from the first Tuesday after Labor Day for 90 days at the height of the surfcasting season.

The recommendation, prepared last week, has already drawn strong criticism from surfers and environmentalists even though it calls for the road to be closed to vehicles for the rest of the year. Now that it has been adopted, the plan will go to the National Park Service office in Boston for review.

"I'm extremely disappointed. I don't see the National Park Service buying this. And I don't see there was a sharing of ideas on the committee. I'm looking into ways to stop it," said Rav Freidel, who represented the Concerned Citizens of Montauk on the board's Turtle Cove committee. The committee was chaired by Larry Penny, director of the Town Department of Natural Resources.

Mr. Freidel added that there seemed little reason to allow cars in Turtle Cove when "there are two giant parking lots nearby. I'm sensitive to the handicapped, but the path from the Montauk Point State Park parking lot to the cove can be made handicapped friendly. And, if surfers can carry in their surfboards, fishermen can carry in their fishing poles."

Turtle Cove has the distinction of being one of the finest surfing spots as well as one of the most productive surfcasting haunts on the East Coast. The Surfrider Foundation, a national environmental group comprised of surfers, has sided with the Concerned Citizens of Montauk and the Group for the South Fork, which has advocated keeping the Turtle Cove Road closed to vehicles.

On the other hand, representatives of the handicapped and of surfcasting fishermen have lobbied hard to keep the Turtle Cove road open after it was closed by the town last year following complaints from the National Park Service.

The dirt road in question, although in existence for many years, came to be used more by drivers when it was widened in 1998 to

provide a way for heavy machinery to get to an erosion control project in front of the Montauk Lighthouse.

Two years ago, the National Park Service accused the town of keeping the road open to vehicles in violation of an agreement made when the town accepted a deed for the road, the cove itself, and surrounding property - a total of 17 acres of Federal land - in 1981.

Last year, the park service strongly suggested that unless the road was closed, the federal government might take back the property. Elyse LaForest of the service's Federal Lands to Park Service said the town could seek to amend its 1981 agreement with the service, but this would require an extensive environmental review during which the road would have to remain closed.

Last September, the town board decided to accommodate those who wanted the road kept open. A committee headed by Mr. Penny was formed, and the road closed by a gate. The 12-person cove committee came up with nine recommendations that its chairman said would be supported by an environmental impact statement. They are:

• For nine months, the road will be closed to traffic except for emergency vehicles.

• There will be parking on the south side of Montauk Highway for nine months.

• Parking will, as always, be available in the Montauk Point State Park lot.

• There will be pedestrian access by way of two trails leading to the cove from Montauk Highway (the state park lot).

• One of the trails will be made to accommodate the handicapped.

• The vegetated dune area behind the Turtle Cove beach will be protected from vehicles.

• For three months, from the first Tuesday after Labor Day for 90 days, vehicles may reach the shore by the road. The beach will accommodate up to 20 vehicles spaced 10 feet apart, and four parking spaces just upland of the beach will be for handicapped parking.

• An attendant will remain on hand during the three-month period to make sure the vehicle quota is not exceeded.

Glenn Hall, who represents the disabled on the Turtle Cove committee, declared its provisions for the physically disabled "unworkable."

He said he had no problem with the four parking spaces made available for the three months the cove would be open to the public, but for the other nine months, "certain disabled people will not be able to access Turtle Cove," he said, explaining that the incline from the state parking lot to Turtle Cove was greater than the 12-degree-to-one-degree pitch required by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

"The big thing is, there is a whole group of disabled people who can't walk that distance," he added.

Ed Porco of the East Hampton Trails Preservation Society, Jodi Grindrod, who represented the Group for the South Fork, and Eugene Alper, of the Surfrider Foundation, complained that "there did not seem to be a true exchange of ideas" on the committee.

Mr. Penny said the proposal was a compromise that would not be likely to satisfy everyone completely. He said he was working on an assessment of how the committee's plan would affect the environment.

Ms. LaForest said on Tuesday that she had been faxed a copy of the nine-point summary.

"It's just a tiny part of what we asked the town to prepare. I'm expecting a larger document with an environmental assessment," she said, adding that she would reserve comment until then.