05/24/13 8:00am
05/24/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Fresh Pond Landing Beach east from Edwards Avenue in Baiting Hollow last week.

People will be swimming at their own risk at Riverhead Town’s three Long Island Sound beaches until the end of June, according to recreation department superintendent Ray Coyne, who said the move is being done in part because of Hurricane Sandy damage, and to save money.

“Those beaches are not ready for swimming,” he said, though he said the beaches have improved in recent months compared to the condition they were in after Sandy.

 

The South Jamesport bay beach will have lifeguards on weekends starting Memorial Day, and swimming will be permitted there, he said. But Long Island Sound beaches at Iron Pier, Wading River and Reeves Park will not have lifeguards until June 24.

All four beaches will have attendants on weekends after Memorial Day, and town parking stickers will be required, Mr. Coyne said. People can go to the Sound beaches, but those who swim there without a lifeguard do so at their own risk, he said.

At Iron Pier, the town is replacing a sidewalk that was destroyed during Sandy, said Supervisor Sean Walter. That work is being paid for with Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, he said.

[Editorial: Town shouldn't scapegoat Sandy just to save a buck]

The supervisor said he supports the decision not to post lifeguards at Sound beaches until June 24.

As for the condition of Iron Pier beach, Mr. Coyne said, “We just needed to clean it, because there was a lot of debris that had washed ashore during the storm. We lost some of the beach, but I’d say we’re in fairly good shape at Iron Pier.”

In Wading River, Mr. Walter said the town dredged Wading River Creek over the winter and got permission from the state to deposit the dredged sand on the beach in front of the homes between the creek’s eastern jetty and the town beach. That sand was pushed up against what used to be the dune, he said, and helped cover up a lot bulkheads and cesspools that were exposed following Sandy.

As for the town beach there, “I don’t think we lost a lot of beach at Wading River,” Mr. Coyne said. “We are in pretty good shape over there.”

The town doesn’t operate Hulse Landing as a bathing beach with lifeguards, but people need parking stickers to park there, and the town also has a boat ramp there, Mr. Coyne said.

That beach has rebounded nicely since the storm, Mr. Walter said.

“It’s just a slightly different landscape this year at the beaches,” Mr. Walter said. “Overall, I don’t think it will be anything insurmountable.”

After June 24, all four beaches will be open — with lifeguards — seven days a week. Last year, the town opened all four beaches on weekends only after Memorial Day with lifeguards and attendants, switching them all to seven days a week at the end of June, Mr. Coyne said.

“It’s a combination of things,” Mr. Coyne said in explaining the staffing changes. “Because of Hurricane Sandy and the damage done on the Long Island Sound beaches, we wanted a little more time to clean them up. And in the case of Reeves Beach, we wanted more time for the beach to come back.”

The other reason, he said, is that studies his department has done show that not many people swim at this time of year, so the department can save money by not hiring the lifeguards.

“If people want to swim in June, they can still go to South Jamesport,” Mr. Coyne said.

Of the four town beaches, South Jamesport made out the best after the hurricane.

“South Jamesport was barely touched,” Mr. Coyne said. The bathroom was flooded by the stormwater, but the beach itself had no problems.

Reeves Park Beach fared the worst of the four.

“As of a few months ago, there was no [Reeves] beach, but it’s slowly coming back,” Mr. Coyne said. “So we’re not going to open it for swimming until the end of June, and we’re hoping there will be enough beach there to put a lifeguard stand.

“If we have to move the lifeguard stand at high tide, then we will not have it open. But I’m confident we will.”

At one point, Mr. Coyne said, the water at Reeves Park came all the way up to the staircase leading down to the beach at high tide, but the beach has been growing in the past six to eight weeks.

“If you had asked me two months ago, I would say we’re not opening it,” Mr. Coyne said.

Eric Biegler, president of the Sound Park Heights Civic Association in Reeves Park, had warned town officials earlier this year about the poor condition of Reeves Beach, but he said Tuesday that it has recovered since then.

Mr. Biegler said the decision not to post lifeguards at Sound beaches before June 24 could be a liability issue if someone has an accident or drowns at a beach without a lifeguard.

“It’s Memorial Day weekend, everyone is thinking beaches, and to not have lifeguards on duty raises a concern,” he said. “But I’ll leave it up to their judgment.”

tgannon@timesreview.com