Recreation Commission Proposes Cutting Beach Hours

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Beaches

FILE PHOTO

HARWICH – Late night partying, bonfires and vandalism – especially along the stretch of beach east of Bank Street – has town officials looking at ways of appeasing frustrated neighbors and addressing inconsistencies in beach access regulations.

Selectmen were presented with a recommendation from the recreation and youth commission Monday night to close public beach access from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. There are currently inconsistencies in the town’s beach regulations, which call for parking lots to be closed at 10 p.m., but allow people to remain on the beaches until midnight.

The regulations are “incongruous,” Police Chief David Guillemette said, making it difficult for his department to enforce regulations. It is difficult to write tickets for parking violations when people are allowed on the beach until midnight, he said.

Guillemette has been meeting with a group of beach neighbors over the past couple of years, and late-night issues have registered on his radar screen, but when there are rowdy and noisy groups on the beach at night his officers have no legal footing to remove them from the beach until midnight. 

The recreation and youth commission conducted a public hearing at the end of March and voted unanimously to recommend beach closure time be changed to 10 p.m. to coincide with the parking lot closure.

“This is an effort to curb late night vandalism, etc., at the public town beaches,” Recreation Director Eric Beebe wrote in a memo to selectmen.

Selectman Larry Ballantine said the board has received emails about the late-night activities, including speeding vehicles along the roads leading to the beaches. Selectman Julie Kavanagh said she has had feedback from people who have permits for beach fires who sometimes do not get to the beach until 8 or 9 p.m. The change would allow little time to enjoy the beach fire experience in such cases, she said, asking if exceptions to the curfew would be allowed for people with fire permits.

Beebe was not present at Monday's meeting and selectmen agreed much more information is needed before making any decisions.

Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill said he attended the commission public hearing and four people spoke about conditions at Bank Street Beach and one addressed Cahoon Landing on Long Pond. He questioned the need for a blanket public beach provision when there were no complaints regarding Red River, Pleasant Road beaches, and other beaches.

“We’re inviting people to come to our town. We print magazines about coming to our town. The chamber promotes the sunny side of Harwich, but don’t make any noise, and you can’t enjoy our beaches now after 10 o’clock at night,” he said. “This board is being asked to shut its beaches down for one beach.”

Bob Nickerson, who is part of the group that has been meeting with the police chief, spoke of the late night bonfires on the beach in front of his house. He said people bring pallets and store them behind the restrooms at Bank Street Beach and break them up to create bonfires. He was concerned about a fire getting out of hand in a south wind and dry conditions and spreading up the bluff to nearby houses.

Nickerson said the groups that are partying are extremely disruptive, swearing at people walking the beach at night and speeding and driving recklessly when coming and going. He suggested changes could be made in the regulations for individual beaches. He also said fire permits issued by the recreation department are for charcoal cook fires, not the bonfires that happen late at night. Kavanagh agreed the permits do not allow “massive fires.” She said the permitting process allows those types of fires to be shut down.

“How many police and fire calls have we had?” Selectman Donald Howell inquired. “I’d like to hear some tangible evidence there is an egregious problem that needs to be addressed.”

MacAskill said there is a lot of information missing that the board would need answered before telling people they can’t walk the beach at night. The board agreed to schedule another session on the proposal in two weeks.