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Portsmouth’s Sandy Point Beach to open Saturday with restrictions

Only residents will be permitted at the beach, limited to 100 people at a time

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — The town’s beaches officially open on Memorial Day weekend, but only to local residents who will need to follow a host of restrictions.

In a specially scheduled virtual meeting Wednesday night, the Town Council voted 6-0 to approve a set of guidelines recommended by Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr., so that Sandy Point and McCorrie Points beaches can open on Saturday, May 23. Council President Kevin Aguiar was absent from the meeting.

Under the guidelines, only Portsmouth residents will be allowed on both town beaches until the state’s COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed. (Normally, residents with either a beach pass or a transfer station sticker can access the beach for free, while out-of-towners are charged a fee.) 

On weekends, when Town Hall is closed, beachgoers can still show proof of residency to beach attendants through a closed window, Mr. Rainer said. The town will also try to set up a system in which residents can acquire passes online.

Only 100 people at a time will be permitted on Sandy Point Beach, which will be monitored by police, lifeguard and attendants. Mr. Rainer said that figure was established after reviewing guidelines set forth by the  R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM), which calls for 60 square feet per person. “You’re regulating the number of people on the beach, not the number of cars,” he said.

Council member Daniela Abbott moved to increase the number of people allowed at Sandy Point to 200, but her motion failed because it didn’t draw a second.

Ms. Abbott argued that far more than 100 people could safely be accommodated at Sandy Point, even at high tide, because there’s at least 1,200 feet of beach there. “A hundred people is a really, really low number,” she said.

Department of Public Works Director Brian Woodhead responded that he and Recreation Director Wendy Bulk measured only the sandy portion of the beach that the lifeguards monitor — slightly over 400 feet, which accounts for the smaller calculation.

Added Mr. Rainer, “Most people are going to want to use the sandy part of the beach.” 

Other council members, along with Police Chief Brian Peters, said they were also in favor of going with the smaller number, which could always be increased as beach rules are relaxed going forward. “I don’t think demand for swimming is going to be particularly robust this weekend. Let’s keep numbers lower until we see how adept we are at doing this,” council member J. Mark Ryan said. “I’m assuming we’re going to be faced with a different set of recommendations by the middle of June.”

Ms. Abbott wasn’t convinced, however, saying that some people will want to use the full length of the beach, lifeguards or not.

Council members agreed to revisit the matter at their Tuesday, May 26 meeting, when they will review how things went over the weekend.

Mr. Rainer originally recommended closing the boardwalk at Sandy Point Beach and directing people to the beach using a wider access point, arguing that it’s too narrow to accommodate social distancing. However, the council decided to use the boardwalk as a one-way exit from the beach for people either leaving for the day or to use the bathhouse.

The bathhouse will remain open, but limited to one person at a time — or a parent who needs to accompany a small child. It will also be closed for 10 minutes every hour to allow an attendant to clean and disinfect.

Sigourney Road, just up the hill from the beach off Sandy Point Avenue, will be closed to non-residents.

McCorrie Point Beach

Anyone with a Sandy Point Beach pass or transfer station sticker can also use that to access McCorrie Point, Mr. Rainer said. There are no attendants or lifeguards at the beach, but police will be monitoring the area for social distancing, he said.

There will be one way in and one way out for drivers accessing McCorrie Point. Williams Street and Annette Drive, the two closest streets to the beach, will be limited to resident parking only.

Council member Keith Hamilton said the town should set an attendance limit at McCorrie Point, the same as at Sandy Point. “It’s going to be residents only, but if there’s 500 residents down there … Gov. Raimondo will take great pleasure in shutting the beach down,” he said. Mr. Rainer agreed to come up with a number by the following day.

Signage will be placed at the entrance of both beaches, reminding people of DEM’s guidelines when visiting.

Concerns about attendants

Several council members said they were concerned about the attendants at Sandy Point, most of whom are college-age, part-time workers who will be coming into contact with a lot of people. After council member Andrew Kelly suggested those workers be issued face shields to cover their eyes as well, Mr. Rainer said it shouldn’t be difficult to procure the equipment.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.