NEW YORK — In the Hamptons, the locals have put up barricades to limit parking and deployed enforcement officers to ticket outsiders. Jersey Shore towns have banned short-term leases and Airbnb rentals. The Suffolk County executive’s office taunted Mayor Bill de Blasio: “Do your job. Figure out a plan to safely reopen your beaches.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, tensions have repeatedly flared over whether too many New York City residents have decamped to outlying vacation areas, potentially taking the virus with them. But now the region appears on the brink of a full-fledged (and nasty) battle over beaches, touched off by the city’s decision to keep its shoreline closed.
In normal times, the Memorial Day weekend start of beach season sparks a mass migration from the city to Long Island, the Jersey Shore and, to a lesser extent, Connecticut. But de Blasio’s delay in opening the city’s beaches for swimming — on Friday, his office suggested they could reopen in June — has led to a backlash from local officials in those areas.
The officials say they fear that their shorelines will be overwhelmed by an exodus of sun-starved New Yorkers blocked from their own beaches, which can in normal times attract 1 million people a day.
To maintain social distancing, beaches across the region are moving to limit access to everyone. On the Jersey Shore, some towns are reducing parking and keeping their iconic boardwalks closed, with seaside restaurants providing takeout and delivery service only. In Spring Lake, beachgoers must now buy daily beach badges in advance; nearby Asbury Park is limiting sales of beach badges and selling them only through an online app.
In Connecticut, state beaches are allowing people to gather in groups of five people or fewer, with 15 feet between beach blankets.
But special rules have also been adopted to keep outsiders away. Westchester County, just north of the city, has restricted its beaches at Playland in Rye and Croton Point Park to county residents. In Groton, Connecticut, only residents can use Eastern Point Beach on weekends and holidays.
The most sweeping rebuke of outsiders, however, seems to be coming from Long Island, many of whose beaches are convenient to New York City. Officials in Long Beach, whose oceanfront is particularly popular, said that turning away nonresidents was a “lifesaving” measure.
“It’s a shame Long Island has to turn away city beachgoers to protect its residents and ensure safe beaches, but until the mayor gets his act together and makes his own beaches safe, that’s the only responsible move,” said state Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat on Long Island who helped lead the charge for such restrictions.
“As soon as New York City does the right thing, Long Island should welcome back its neighbors, as long as safe volumes can be maintained,” he said.
The Suffolk County executive, Steve Bellone, closed two county-run beaches — Smith Point, on Fire Island, and Cupsogue Beach, in the Hamptons — to nonresidents. He took to Twitter to chide de Blasio, who had earlier in the week said restrictions “should not be about any ill feeling toward people depending on where they come from.”
“This isn’t about ‘ill feelings’ — there is reduced capacity,” Bellone tweeted.
Oyster Bay, Hempstead and Brookhaven, all on Long Island, have also moved to limit access. Farther east, the Town of East Hampton suspended the sale of nonresident parking permits and began enforcing summer beach parking regulations early this year.
These kinds of restrictions do not apply to state-run beaches like Jones Beach and Robert Moses State Park, mileslong expanses that Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced would be open to all, at a reduced capacity, starting Friday.
De Blasio, however, has warned that opening the city’s 14 miles of public beaches may pose risks to the strict social distancing rules that city health officials have credited with helping to ease the peak virus infection rates seen in April.
It is part of a difficult balance de Blasio has tried to strike between providing critical cooling options without squandering the city’s hard-fought gains in bringing case numbers down.
The mayor has declined to give a date for the reopening or to say what restrictions will be imposed. Coney Island and Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, Orchard Beach in the Bronx and some of the beaches in the Rockaways are all operated by the city. But at his daily news briefing Friday, he said, “The fact is, we are getting the lifeguards ready right now.”
City lifeguards have been called into pools for their annual training and testing, said Henry Garrido of the lifeguards’ union, District Council 37. “They’re being trained to get ready to open the beach early in June,” Garrido said.
The Nassau County executive’s office initially called the mayor’s decision “irresponsible and shortsighted.”
Laura Curran, the Nassau executive, has since had conciliatory discussions with de Blasio. Still, she signed a measure Wednesday to restrict access to Nickerson Beach, just east of Long Beach — specifically until New York City beaches reopen.
The measure noted the need to “protect the health, safety and welfare” of residents from outsiders who could “crowd out access” at Nickerson.
The next day, de Blasio urged city residents to refrain from traveling to Long Island, asking them to “keep it local.”
Jane Meyer, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said Long Island would benefit from the city’s decision to keep its beaches closed for now. “The fate of our whole region rests on New York City’s ability to continue to drive down this virus,” she said.
The political back and forth continued with at least two city councilmen calling for retribution, suggesting sardonically that suburbanites be excluded from Manhattan events like SantaCon and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and that New York City tax commuters.
Donovan Richards, a councilman who represents much of the Rockaways, noted that Queens had long welcomed the Long Islanders who park on city streets to go to Rockaway Beach.
“Maybe we should start charging them for beach parking,” Richards said. “In a pandemic, when we should all be pulling together, not being divisive, they’re drawing these lines, with the perception that New York City is infecting everybody.”
Councilman Justin Brannan, who represents parts of Brooklyn, said the restrictions were “just not the message you want to be sending right now.”
“They come to our city and enjoy what our tax dollars pay for, and now we can’t go to their beaches?” he said.
New York City has had roughly 200,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and more than 20,000 deaths, a toll that exceeds those in most countries around the world.
Long Island has also been a hot spot in the outbreak, with roughly 78,000 cases and roughly 4,400 deaths.
Corey Johnson, the New York City Council speaker, said the solution to the spat with Long Island was simply to open city beaches immediately.
“I’m not sure it’s realistic to believe that people will not attempt to swim,” Johnson said, “and we don’t want to be arresting people in the midst of this pandemic.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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