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East Lyme to sell limited number of beach day passes to nonresidents

East Lyme — More than a month after town officials announced town beaches would be closed to nonresidents to keep residents safe during the COVID-19 pandemic while still keeping beaches open, the Parks and Recreation Commission recently agreed it would sell limited amounts of beach day passes to nonresidents and began doing so last weekend.

The town is still not selling season passes to nonresidents.

Nonresident day passes are being sold for $40 to $50 each day at the McCook’s Point Park & Beach parking lot but can be used at any of the town’s three beaches: McCook’s Point Beach, Hole-in-the-Wall Beach and Niantic Bay Beach at Cini Park.

Parks and Recreation Department Director Dave Putnam said the town is not enforcing a strict cap on how many can be sold, but is selling about 30 nonresident passes per day in total — about 10 per beach — based on how busy beaches are. He said more passes might be sold to nonresidents on any given day if beach staff determine there is additional room to safely accommodate them, which he said tends to be on weekdays when beaches don't typically reach capacity.

Putnam said the town is basing its beach capacities on parking caps at each one: 100 cars at McCook’s Point, 100 cars at Cini Park and 75 cars at the Hole-in-the-Wall Beach. After capacity is reached, both residents and nonresidents are turned away. He added that when the town began selling nonresident day passes last weekend, all sold out by 10 a.m. Saturday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

“There is no playbook for this and we are trying to do the right thing. We understand everyone wants to come to the beach and get out of the hot weather and that this is tough for everyone this year,” Putnam said. “We are doing the best we can and trying to provide opportunities to as many people as we can, while following (capacity) guidelines from the state.”

Putnam, who spoke to The Day on behalf of the commission Tuesday, said the commission made the decision to sell the nonresident passes after Putnam and his department reported that beaches could safely handle hosting a limited number of nonresidents. He said the decision was not made out of worry that the town was violating public access laws nor was it made out of budgetary concerns.

“I think the commission wanted to start out really strict and left it up to the department to monitor the beaches and then slowly and appropriately offer additional nonresident passes for people,” Putnam said. “They took a hard stance at first and waited to see how things unfolded with the pandemic. The question was: ‘Can we accept more people and still have people safe?’ and the answer was, ‘yes.’”

Putnam did note that his department was not making nearly as much revenue in beach pass sales as usual, 40% of which typically comes from nonresident passes, putting strain on department spending. Beach pass sales provide the approximately $200,000 the town needs to operate the beaches each year, he said.

He said the department is currently predicting a $35,000 to $40,000 deficit in beach pass sales this summer and is expecting to cut back on beach staff hours over the summer, especially on rainy days, to help make up for the lost revenue, among other measures he said have not yet been decided.

m.biekert@theday.com

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