2003-03-15 / Front Page

Another Wave Of Beach Tickets This Summer?

Another Wave Of Beach Tickets This Summer?

The key word in deciding whether surfing, fishing and walking the beach in the evening this coming season will be allowed or not is "liability."

"This has become a question of the city's legal liability in case of an accident," says City Councilman Joe Addabbo, the chair for the council's Parks Committee. "The city wants assurances from the state that it will not be held liable by people engaged in those activities."

A meeting held in late January between the State's Health Department, the City's Health Department and the City's Department of Parks to discuss the issue reportedly came to no agreement, with the city pointing to the state health regulations and the state representative saying that the city could work within those rules to allow surfing and fishing.

At that meeting, the city representatives reportedly asked the state legislature to pass a new law specifically allowing those activities.

In February, Ronald Tramontano, the director of the New York State Depart-ment of Health's Center for Environmen-tal Health sent a letter to Assembly-woman Audrey Pheffer, detailing for her the outcome of the meeting.

"We explained that we are considering a change to Subpart 6-2 of the State Sanitary Code to clarify that the bathing definition does not include surfing or surf fishing and that our intent is not to prohibit these activities," the letter said. "City Parks officials indicated that it is important that revisions to the code's sign requirements incorporate a clear message that bathing is prohibited when no supervision exists and that the owner (the city) is not liable for injuries related to non-compliance with the prohibition."

"Such a proposal will need to go through the state rulemaking process, public comment period and approval by the Public Health Council. Because of the time required to do this, I do not anticipate that, if approved, it will be in place for this summer," Tramontano added.

The letter goes on to say, "The city's current position is based on a risk management evaluation by its Corporation Counsel who determined that drowning and other injuries that occur after hours at the city's bathing beaches have resulted in numerous lawsuits and multi-million decisions against the City."

Last summer, there was a flurry of tickets issued by police officers of the 100 Precinct for surfing, fishing from the rocks along the beachfront and walking on the beach after the 9 p.m. closing time. Some residents reportedly even received tickets for leaving their blankets unattended while they took a dip in the ocean.

Many letters to The Wave and to local politicians complained that the police were "destroying the resident's quality of life that people moved to Rockaway to enjoy by restricting the use of the beach and the ocean."

Captain Charles Talamo, the commanding officer of the 100 Precinct, in an op-ed piece in The Wave, responded by saying, "the police officers from the 100 Precinct, at my insistence, aggressively police our neighborhoods attacking the complete spectrum of public safety hazards from the most minor quality of life violations to the most serious felony."

"The Parks Department regulations are a tool that the precinct is using to cite those persons whose behavior infringes on the quality of life of our residents," he added.

Both the police and the city look to the State's Health Department regulations as the reason for the restrictions.

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, however, disagrees.

"At many state parks, surfing and fishing are allowed from sunrise to sunset," Pheffer said in a letter to New York City's Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. "These activities are permitted only at designated beaches and locations. Additionally, surfers and fishers are allowed to conduct these activities without lifeguard supervision. However, swimming is only permitted at designated beaches and while lifeguards are on duty."

Benepe, however, reportedly refuses to designate specific beaches without an enabling law from the state legislature.

"This can be done," Addabbo says, "but it will take at least one legislative cycle - a year or so."

The state health law is clearly stated.

Section 6-2.16 says, in part, "No boating, water skiing or surfboarding shall be permitted in the swimming and bathing area. Separate areas for the above activities may be designated by floating lines and buoys."

"The state rule clearly says that the city can designate a separate area for surfers and fishermen," Pheffer says. "They did that at Jones Beach, and that is what the city has to do."

While none of those who are involved with the dispute will say so publicly, one politician admitted that the city is trying to cover themselves in case of an accident.

"There is no doubt that the law allows the city to designate beaches for those prohibited activities and to keep the beaches open later into the evening. They will not do so, however, until the state gives them a specific go-ahead and agrees to limit the liability of the city should there be an accident."

As for this summer, Addabbo believes that the state will not be able to act in time. Tramontano seems to agree.

When Captain Talamo was asked at a recent 100 Precinct Community Council whether he would be as aggressive at ticketing this year as last, he gave a little smile and said, "I will always uphold the law."

Talamo's statement, along with the city's unwillingness to designate separate beaches for surfing and fishing, and an unwillingness to keep the beaches open to the public later in the evening, does not bode well for Rockaway residents in the coming summer season, according to one man at the meeting, who was wearing a "Let's Go Surfing" shirt.

"Here we go again," he said. "I'd better stop getting my surfboard ready for the summer."

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