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NYC’s Closed Beaches Anger Nearby Shore Towns, Spark Limits

Henry Goldman

(Bloomberg) -- New York and New Jersey state beaches will be open for Memorial Day weekend, but New York City’s 14 miles of sandy shoreline will be closed.

The closure has raised concerns on Long Island and in New Jersey that residents of a locked-down city of 8.6 million may flock their way -- where they may not be welcome.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the city’s beaches closed while Governor Andrew Cuomo joined with New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware to open state beaches. This disparity may heighten the region’s challenges in reopening safely.

Memorial Day’s status as the starting gun for the summer season across much of the U.S. East Coast, coupled with concerns about how police have responded to past distancing violations, make this weekend one of the biggest tests for authorities as the U.S. slowly emerges from its weekslong lockdown.

To keep New York City residents out, Nassau County and several municipalities have enacted resident-only rules for their beaches. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran took the unprecedented step of restricting access to her county’s Nickerson Beach on Long Island’s south shore after de Blasio ordered city beaches closed.

“Our residents are the ones who pay the taxes to operate the beach, to make sure it runs well, and I believe they should be given the priority to use it,” Curran told reporters Wednesday. While she understands and respects de Blasio’s decision, Curran said, “I want to make sure our residents get the benefit of their own beach.”

New Jersey by law cannot restrict their beaches to residents only, and Governor Phil Murphy said on Thursday that out-of-state visitors are “a reality that we accept going into this.”

But state beaches are admitting sunbathers only at 50% capacity, and municipalities may decide themselves whether to open locally-owned beaches, Murphy said.

In the Borough of Belmar, for example, 65 miles (105 km) south of Manhattan in New Jersey’s Monmouth County, a $9 day-badge will buy access to the beach, limited by social-distancing requirements enforced by foot patrols, an observation tower and a camera-equipped drone. If beach demand exceeds capacity, people will be asked to move or leave, said Borough Business Administrator Ed Kirschenbaum.

No Coney Island

In New York City, millions normally crowd the sandy stretches of Brooklyn’s Coney Island, or Rockaway Beach in Queens, and Orchard Beach in the Bronx in good weather on Memorial Day.

This year, in the city most hard hit by the Covid-19 virus, “there won’t be swimming on the beaches, there won’t be gatherings, there won’t be sports,” de Blasio said during a news briefing Thursday. He urged residents to “keep it simple, keep it local” and stay home. “We do not want large numbers of people going on mass transit right now,” he said.

If city dwellers don’t follow the mayor’s advice and ride the subways to city beaches, or take the Long Island Rail Road or drive to state-owned destinations such as Jones Beach or Robert Moses State Park on the island’s south shore, they could be turned away because space will be limited to 50% of usual capacity. “If you go you’re not even going to be sure you’ll to be able to get on the beach,” the mayor said.

Nassau County isn’t alone in banning non-residents from its beach. Hempstead Township’s Lido Beach and Point Lookout also will be reserved for township residents-only. The City of Long Beach will permit strolling on its 2.2 mile (3.5 km) boardwalk, but access to its 3.3-mile (5.3 km) stretch of sand and surf will require a season ticket, now available to residents only, and swimming is currently prohibited.

Acting Regionally

Cuomo agreed to open state beaches last week when the neighboring states were poised to do so, he said last week. “What one state does will affect other states. That is probably nowhere more clear than when it comes to opening beaches,” he said then.

“One state doesn’t open beaches, another state does open beaches, you will see people flood to that state.” At the same time, he permitted de Blasio, and the heads of all local governments in the state, to decide whether to open or stay closed. “If they choose to open, they must adopt the state’s requirements at a minimum,” the governor said.

For weeks the mayor has warned New Yorkers of summonses and fines if found perching a beach blanket or playing in the waves. City workers have already prepared fencing to bar public entry from city’s shorelines. Enhanced police patrols will be deployed, he said.

The mayor’s policy hasn’t been popular. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has repeatedly called upon the mayor to loosen his grip.

“We need a plan ASAP to allow New Yorkers to use city beaches safely this summer without creating new issues regarding over-policing and unequal enforcement,” Johnson said in a Monday Twitter message. Anticipating disobedience and unpleasant police encounters with violators, Johnson added: “This has the potential to be a disaster without fact-based guidelines, smart planning, and clear communication.”

No Crush?

Murphy said problems may be nipped by the weather, and he’s not expecting a crush from out of town.

“I wish it were 85, low humidity and sunny,” Murphy said. “It’s not going to be any of that. We may have caught a break in terms of the amount of people and the density.”

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