Nassau County is legally obligated to allow New York City residents to visit Nickerson Beach after all, county officials said after a reporter pointed out that federal law generally mandates public access to beaches that have used federal funding -- as most of the Superstorm Sandy-devastated coastline of Long Island has done with Army Corps of Engineers projects.
Earlier in the week, Long Island officials announced that various beaches would be restricted to local residents as a counter-measure to Mayor Bill de Blasio's decision not to open city beaches on Memorial Day weekend in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced she would sign legislation to prohibit New York City residents from visiting Nickerson Beach, which is the only beach under the county's control and is located just east of Long Beach.
"There is no summer on Long Island without the beach, and now more than ever our shores will serve as much-needed relief for residents looking to beat the heat," Curran announced on Tuesday. "As County Executive, my number one priority will always be the health and safety of our residents. In order to ensure Nassau residents can enjoy our only County-operated beach, I will sign legislation restricting access to Nickerson Beach to Nassau residents only."
The Nassau County legislature passed the bill Wednesday.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said he will do the same at Cupsogue Beach and Smith Point County Parks. The town of Hempstead and the city of Long Beach, which ordinarily charges a fee for a day or season beach pass, also said they passed legislation to restrict beach access from non-residents.
But Nickerson Beach actually must remain open to anyone because of the federal access statute, Curran's spokeswoman Christine Geed acknowledged Tuesday. Last year the Army Corps of Engineers completed the $130 million Long Beach Coastal Storm Risk Reduction Project, which included dunes restoration and new pedestrian crossovers at Nickerson Beach.
Geed said the parking lot for Nickerson Beach is on Nassau County land and will only be available for Nassau residents. "The parking is what we can control," Geed said Wednesday. "If somebody can be on the beach and walk down the beach, beaches don't have borders."
The Nassau County legislation will sunset if de Blasio fully opens New York City's beaches for swimming.
State Senator Todd Kaminsky, who represents Long Beach, issued a statement Tuesday still supporting restricting access to Nickerson Beach while trying to ensure the flow of federal aid: "I am speaking with federal officials to make sure that beaches that received Army Corps support can continue to do so in the future in light of this unprecedented situation we currently face.”
Suffolk County officials said they are still limiting access to their two county parks, Cupsogue Beach and Smith Point County Parks, to Suffolk residents, despite both parks receiving hundreds of millions of dollars worth of federal aid from the Army Corps of Engineers.
"In an effort to adhere to state guidelines with respect to limited beach capacity, we are implementing this measure to protect public health on a temporary basis," said Suffolk County spokesman Derek Poppe in an email statement Tuesday.
When asked about the restrictions on Wednesday, de Blasio said city beach conditions were different from the suburbs because of mass transit.
"To get to our beaches, the vast majority of people are going to take subways and buses, and that creates crowding there and then crowding the beaches, there's such an obvious set of reasons why we couldn't open our beaches," he said at his press briefing. "But if you're in surrounding counties where people are mainly going by car, where beaches don't get crowded the way ours do -- if that's what works for them, I respect that. Everyone has to make their own choice, and everyone has to set their own ground rules."
Anyone trying to get to Nickerson Beach without a car will need to travel to the Long Beach LIRR station and bike or cab about four miles.