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Portsmouth mulls beach openings for Memorial Day weekend

Administrator recommends allowing residents only for now


PORTSMOUTH — In hopes of getting the two town beaches open for the Memorial Day weekend that starts Saturday, May 23, Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr. has made a number of recommendations aimed at allowing at least some sun-worshipers to visit Sandy Point and McCorrie Point beaches.

The Town Council is expected to act on Mr. Rainer’s suggestions at a special meeting tonight, May 20.

On Tuesday, Mr. Rainer said his recommendations include allowing only Portsmouth residents to visit Sandy Point Beach initially. (Residents are allowed in for free, while out-of-towners are charged a daily fee of $10 Monday through Thursday, and $15 for Friday through Sunday.)

Residents are waved through if they have either a transfer station sticker affixed to their vehicle, or another sticker that residents who don’t use the transfer station can get at Town Hall. “If you don’t have one, we have an attendant. Without lowering your window, you show your ID or tax bill or something that proves you’re a resident, and you go in,” Mr. Rainer said.

Limiting beach access to local residents means no money would be exchanged — one of the goals during COVID-19. In the future, the town may install a parking kiosk, similar to what’s used at Easton’s Beach (or First Beach) in Newport, he said.

The administrator is also recommending that Sigourney Street, just up the hill from the beach on Sandy Point Avenue, be used for resident parking only.

After reading the state Department of Environmental Management’s “long and convoluted” set of guidelines posted Tuesday, Mr. Rainer decided to recommend limiting the beach to 100 people. “We’re not going to be counting cars, we’re going to be counting people,” he said.

The town is currently down to two lifeguards, and under Mr Rainer’s recommendations they would not be watching bathers this weekend but rather reminding visitors about DEM’s rules on wearing face masks and keeping groups at least six feet apart from each other.

The Sandy Point bathhouse would be limited to one person at a time, and shut down periodically to be cleaned and disinfected, he’s suggesting.

The boardwalk normally used to access the beach from the parking lot would be closed since it’s too narrow to allow people to keep a safe distance from one another, he said. “They’d have to use the wide area, which will use cones to direct foot traffic,” Mr. Rainer said.

McCorrie Point Beach

McCorrie Point would also be a residents-only beach during COVID-19 under Mr. Rainer’s recommendation, and those accessing it would also need to flash a beach or transfer station sticker. “We can’t take money down there, and there’s no money for lifeguards and no restroom facilities,” he said.

The traffic pattern at McCorrie Point — “Right now, it’s kind of haphazard,” the administrator said — would be changed to divert drivers to the right upon entering the area, and then exit from the other side.

The two streets closest to the beach — William Street and Annette Drive — would be for resident parking only. “That would discourage people from parking in the neighborhood and walking down the beach,” he said.

Who should be allowed?

Managing the beaches during the pandemic first came up for discussion at the May 11 Town Council meeting. Council member Daniela Abbott said Sandy Point Beach is different from Second Beach in Middletown or Narragansett Town Beach in that Portsmouth doesn’t charge residents to use it, but does require a fee from visitors outside the town. If and when the town beaches do open, she wondered whether access should be restricted to Portsmouth, Aquidneck Island or Rhode Island residents.

Council member Keith Hamilton, meanwhile, said he didn’t want any teenage attendants taking money that’s been “God knows where.” He and other council members suggested using a device to accept electronic payments going forward.

At the May 11 meeting, Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Rainer said they were also concerned about an influx of visitors wanting to use Sandy Point Beach after being denied entrance to beaches in either Newport or Middletown. Noting the attendants at Sandy Point are usually teenagers, Mr. Rainer said leaving it up to them to restrict people from entering the parking lot could put “young people in very uncomfortable situations.”

As for the other island beaches, earlier this week Middletown decided to open Third Beach on Saturday, May 23, but for Middletown residents only. Second Beach will remain closed for now, but will eventually be opened to the general public since federal money was used to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy. First Beach in Newport will not open until  Thursday, June 4. 

Two state beaches, East Matunuck and Scarborough, will reopen on Memorial Day, May 25, with reduced (but free) parking, and no bathroom or shower facilities, concession stands or lifeguards.

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