The Westport Board of Selectmen last week cleared the way to enter into talks that might lead to the purchase of a 480-foot stretch of Beach Avenue shoreline.
And this week, town equipment moved in to clear Beach Avenue of sand and other debris, a move that prompted objections from some who live nearby.
“They haven’t even bought it yet and already they’re taking over,” said one caller who asked not to be identified.
Not so, said Town Administrator John “Jack” Healey Tuesday.
“They are doing exactly what they did last year — opening that public road up so that people can access the public shoreline there … Some people don’t want anyone else to use the beach there and that’s not the way it works. They (the Highway Department) are clearing the sand off just like they’ve done before.”
He said the action is condoned by the Selectmen and Conservation Commission as well as the Department of Environmental Protection. The gate, he added, can remain for now to prevent after hours visits.
“They are doing it legally, carefully,” he said, adding that this has nothing to do with the possible purchase of a beach lot.
Mr. Healey said he and others have received calls complaining about the road clearing, and has heard arguments that the work will draw crowds of trespassers and litter.
But “the words ‘Those people’ don’t resonate well with me,” Mr. Healey said. “We are all in this together.” The shorefront there belongs to all in town, he added.
The three board members present last week— Antone Vieira Jr., Richard Spirlet and R. Michael Sullivan — voted unanimously to move forward on the controversial project of creating a new town beach. Board members Steven Ouellette and Craig Dutra were absent.
At the same time, the three selectmen agreed to make a $175,000 starting offer for the property to its owner, listed as Black Rock LLC. The idea of a town purchase of the 1.44-acre beach property listed on town maps as Lot 8, Map 89 (0 Beach Avenue) was first proposed by Westport attorney and lot owner Brian Corey. No price has yet been mentioned publicly.
For the beach to enter into public use would require the town to open the now-gated stretch of Beach Avenue and allow cars to park along one side.
Advocates of the plan say the shoreline, located east of the private Elephant Rock Beach Club, would provide easier beach access, especially for seniors or those with disabilities, than the present town beaches which are a good hike over the dunes from parking areas.
Beach Avenue runs directly along the shore and some on both the Board of Selectmen and Beach Committee have argued that those living there had no business closing it off since the road is town-owned. Residents replied that they were given permission to close the road off after they made repeated complaints about littering and illegal parking.
But opponents of the transaction, many of them Beach Avenue neighbors, have voiced concerns about increased use of the beach causing trespassing, littering and added expense to the town which would presumably have to pay for patrols and lifeguards.
The Selectmen had earlier tasked the Beach Committee with providing specifics on how the beach might be run and where beach visitors would park.
The Beach Committee provided answers to some of the questions asked of it but said others questions are beyond its scope. Issues such as trespassing and traffic are enforcement matters normally handled by police, they said.
The committee proposal is that the beach would be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. during beach season and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter. A lifeguard would be assigned to open and close the gates during beach season and to pick up litter.
Some, including several members of the Beach Committee, have questioned whether the beach would be well-used since parts of it are rocky and often covered with seaweed.