2013-08-22 / News

Harbor panel worries kayakers taking over

Police Chief Mello proposes limiting number of permits
By Margo Sullivan

Maple Avenue has become Jamestown’s most popular spot for launching kayaks, but now it’s becoming overcrowded, the Harbor Commission learned at its Aug. 14 meeting.

Head’s Beach, Maple Avenue and East Ferry are near capacity, according to Police Chief Ed Mello. He suggested setting a limit on the number of beach permits to avoid congestion and ensure public access for everyone.

Mello says the harbor office needs a mechanism to regulate the number of permits. However, a cap would affect newcomers who are eyeing the spot and plan to apply for a beach permit next season, Commissioner Ed McGuirl said.

“There is no limit on the number of permits issued to any particular area,” Mello said.

If the place is overbooked, Mello explained, the harbor office doesn’t have explicit authority to deny an application and a challenge could result.

Harbormaster Sam Paterson asked Kim Devlin, harbor clerk, to compile a chart showing the numbers at each location. She created a chart that depicted the number of beach permits currently issued for Maple Avenue, Head’s Beach, East Ferry and Fort Getty.

Based on the data, Mello and Paterson advised capping Maple Avenue beach permits at 60. Mello went on to give the recommendations for the other locations, which are capping Head’s Beach at 15 and East Ferry at 30. They did not recommend a cap at Fort Getty, which is currently underused with 15 permits.

If the caps cause future problems, the number could always be revisited.

“Nothing would prevent adjusting the cap up or down depending on availability and demand,” Mello said.

Mello presented a one-page summary of the situation at each location. Currently, 57 beach permits have been issued for Maple Avenue. Those permits are for dinghies, kayaks, canoes and paddleboards. The smallest is 5 inches, and the longest is 17 feet.

More than half the permits are for crafts that measure between 10 and 13 feet long. Twelve permits were issued for those measuring 11 feet, 10 for 10-footers, six for 12-footers and seven for 13-footers.

At East Ferry, 27 beach permits have been issued this year, and Mello suggested putting the cap at 30 for next season. According to the summary, East Ferry has “a more diverse group of vessel permits,” including Hobie Cats, dinghies and kayaks. The three largest vessels at East Ferry measure 16 feet long. The smallest is 6 feet.

Fort Getty has 15 vessels permitted this season, and they are all dinghies and kayaks.

Two permits for Hobie Cats were issued for Head’s Beach this season. The other nine permits were for dinghies and kayaks. Mello recommended capping Head’s Beach at 15 permits.

Paterson said the assistant harbormaster has kept track of the beach permits at each location.

Mello said there is “a little bit of room” at Head’s Beach for additional kayaks and dinghies, but not at Maple Avenue.

“It’s crowded now,” Mello said, partly because of the new kayak rack. The commissioners had the rack installed at the start of the season and it has been well received.

Commission Chairman Michael de Angeli said the commissioners should visit the locations before making a decision.

“We should go look at this,” he said.

Mello said the commissioners had time to mull over a decision since the summer is almost over.

“Certainly, there’s no rush,” he said.

But McGuirl said this is the time when people make plans for next year.

“Next year,” he said, “there could be 70 people who want to be at the end of Maple Avenue.”

Mello said the congestion was an issue for the harbor commissioners because allowing too many vessels in one area could result in cutting off the public’s access to the beach.

“Part of the harbor management plan is still access to water,” he said. “The kayaks are making pedestrian access more difficult. That’s not the plan.”

Paterson said Maple Avenue has become a hotspot.

“Is there a problem?” Commissioner Larry Eichler said.

“In the past couple of years, there has been,” Paterson replied.

Eichler asked for more details.

“Maple is pretty crowded,” Mello said. “It’s cumbersome to get through.”

Commissioner William Harsch said he lives near Maple Avenue and can vouch for the fact there is a lot of activity.

“I paid for the first boat racks,” he said. “The use has been shooting up, and what baffles me is all that access along the causeway and Mackerel Cove is not being used.”

He asked about alternative locations.

“Can there be beach permits for the back side of Mackerel?” he asked.

Paterson said parking would be a problem because cars can’t park on the north side. Plus, he added, using that location would put the kayakers next to “a closed area,” referencing the waters that have been closed to shellfishing.

“Maple Avenue does touch a closed area,” Harsch replied.

That was true, Paterson said, but ultimately the objection would be over a safety issue. It would be dangerous to cross the street by Mackerel Cove “trying to maneuver kayaks on the road going out to Beavertail.”

The reason the racks originally were put on Maple Avenue was to protect the Audubon property beach, Harsch said. In that respect, it’s been a success.

“People are now making extensive use of the Audubon property,” he said, “and the whole idea of racks was to get people off the Audubon beach.”

But Maple Avenue is only a 25-foot-wide right-of-way, he said, and there are eight boat racks there today.

“We’ve come full circle,” he said.

Paterson said the best plan now would be to encourage people to buy beach permits for Fort Getty. Paterson said the seasonal pass to Fort Getty only costs $15 for residents.

“People won’t want to pay,” Harsch said.

The other locations have free admission.

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