2008-08-08 / Top Stories

Breezy Beach Clubs Negotiate To Stay Open

By Nicholas Briano

The Breezy Point beach clubs, which have been in operation since the 1960s, are facing a series of changes that have been mandated by the National Park Service (NPS), the agency that allows them to operate on federal property under what are termed Special Land Use Permits.

Extending those permits was routinely approved, up until last year, officials say.

However, after a 2006 report released by the United States Office of the Inspector General that examined the public use of National Parks, things began to change.

The report concluded that the Silver Gull Club and the Breezy Point Surf Club were issued their special use permits under "inappropriate circumstances," because the permits allowed the clubs to have exclusive use of federal parklands without making the guarantees of access and accountability required under federal rules.

A decades long parks employee, who asked not to be identified when speaking without the permission of his superiors, told The Wave that "many of the people who use the beach clubs do so because of their exclusivity and their ability to keep out those who they would rather not be with."

That employee admitted that the clubs often feel exclusive, with private beaches, pools, and restaurants and that the clientele of the beach clubs is not at all diverse in terms of racial or ethnic mix, something that is required by the agency from businesses that use public federal land.

"[The beach clubs] must conform with the Inspector General and be brought into similar compliance with other businesses that operate on federal park lands," he said.

A female club member told a Wave staffer, however, that she doesn't believe that the federal government should mandate who uses what she terms as "her" beach.

"We have a nice club where people with like backgrounds and customs can get together and relax. Why should the federal government want to change that?" she asked.

But operating like other businesses that use federal lands under a business concession, as opposed to their current special use permit, means changes for the clubs.

The changes will call for regular inspections and oversight of visitor services and facility maintenance. The beach club operators will also need an environmental management plan and a visitor safety program.

Under the new contract they, in addition, will be required to pay a formulated franchise fee to the government, according to Brian Feeney, spokesperson for Gateway National Recreation Area.

Also included in all concession contracts is a non-discrimination requirement related to employment, as well as to services offered to the public, one of several things NPS oversees with every business concession.

All these changes will be spelled out in a special three-year emergency concession contract that will enable the beach clubs to remain open and operating, but will require that the federal mandates be followed.

During this three-year period, Gateway National Recreation Area will also be updating their General Management Plan, which includes preparation of a new Commercial Services Plan for the entire park, including the beach clubs, which will be of high priority to ensure the operation of the beach clubs past 2011. General Management Plans consider a wide range of management concerns including stewardship of natural and cultural resources, operational limitations, and the range of visitor experiences appropriate for this national park.

"The three-year non-competitive concession agreement cannot be renewed. The data collection, alternatives and public comment will be accelerated for the section of the park that contains the beach club properties," Feeney said.

The public will have many opportunities provide input into the General Management Plan during public meeting and formal comment periods, he added.

In the meantime, Gateway officials are still negotiating the three-year emergency concession contract with the clubs' operator and Chairman Tom August, who failed to return several phone calls from The Wave.

The changes encourage more public participation by operating the clubs like any other businesses that operate on federal park lands.

In order to enhance public use, NPS claims, they have instituted a daily membership option at $50 per person, in addition to the existing season long memberships that sell for $470 per person. Optional cabanas are also available and priced as high as $4,000 per summer. This generates more than $7 million annual revenue between the two clubs, NPS officials say.

The pre-existing permit for the beach clubs expired last year with a special one-year permit issued to continue operation this summer while NPS and August negotiate the terms of the three-year emergency concession contract to keep them operating past 2011.

Gateway officials have expressed interest in having the contract signed no later than the end of this year to ensure that the beach clubs open on time in 2009.

"As of this date the concession agreement is still under development, but Gateway officials have publicly stated their desire to have the contract signed no later than the end of this year," Feeney said.

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