A new report from Save the Sound says towns should make beaches more accessible to the public. The environmental group said doing so would foster personal connections to the Sound and boost the local economy.
Brown said lessening fees, ensuring there is adequate parking and public transportation, and allowing non-residents to visit town beaches are all steps in the right direction.
“We just really encourage communities that have beaches, to look at the fees that you're charging, and try and make it so there's not an excess burden on people who don't live within the community.,: she said.
Some community leaders, like George Hoffman of Setauket Harbor Task Force, are concerned with how increase accessibility would be implemented. Exclusive beach access on Long Island is often privately deeded. Parking near beaches is already an issue.
“We try to find that balance of encouraging more use of the water resource. At the same time, understanding that people, some places may not be appropriate, that could create traffic issues,” Hoffman said.
In Connecticut, it is illegal to deny access to non-residents from beaches, though they can be charged high fees. A third of beaches on the Sound are either private, or limited to local residents.
Another issue flagged in the report concerns problems with current testing that determines if the water is safe to swim in.
Tracey Brown, regional director for water protection at Save the Sound, said the monitoring of fecal bacteria is not a perfect science.
“The sample that's taken on that given day takes 24 hours to process. So you don't know until the next day if the water was dirty. And so the closures that are based on bad testing results are a day after the water pollution happened,” Brown said.
Bacteria levels tend to increase when it rains or when there are faulty sewage systems. Failure to properly dispose of pet waste is also a factor.
The report also gives a grade to beaches on Long Island. Beaches east of Riverhead tend to have the highest ratings. Valley Grove Beach in Eatons Neck, which has a long history of septic issues and marine debris, received the worst score.
Hoffman said this often is due to a lack of resources, when compared to public beaches.
“I know some in Nassau County, where you have stormwater drains that are right by some of the private beaches...it's a lot harder for them to control the overall environment,” he said.
A spokesman for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation also reviewed the report and took some credit for improved water quality.
“DEC continues to make progress in reducing high levels of nitrogen and other nutrients in Long Island Sound which can cause toxic marine algae blooms, fish kills, and degraded wetlands, marine habitats, and recreational water quality conditions,” they said in a statement.