Whack-a-mole at the beach
Hey Narragansett? Know where your kids are? South Kingstown, too. Social media makes it possible for teens to make plans on the fly, and apps like Snapchat make their communications disappear equally fast. According to Police Chief Matt Moynihan, teens from those communities on the mainland are using the app to plan spontaneous outings to the island for the purpose of partying. The message sent out, according to Moynihan: “We’re going to Block. We’re going to Block.”
“You’re welcome to be on the beach,” the Chief continued, but not to have alcohol. The beach in question is the one just south of Ballard’s Beach, below the Ocean View Foundation, which was the site of a large party, estimated at about 500, that included plenty of under-age drinking, on July 4.
After the party, Moynihan asked to have a meeting with the Land Trust, to discuss some of the problems, and some suggested solutions to mitigate them.
The Ocean View Foundation owns the parcel down near the road, but the Land Trust owns land that extends south all the way down to, and including most of the Spring House Pond. Maintenance is a shared responsibility. A few years ago the Land Trust, with permission from the Rhode Island Coastal Management Council installed a path that runs parallel to the stretch of road going down to Ballard’s. One of the reasons the path was initially installed was that Ballard’s had blocked off what was the acknowledged beach access point in that area.
Access to the shoreline below the mean high tide mark is guaranteed under the R.I. Constitution, and the beach there is not only beautiful, it is used for environmental exploration programs hosted by The Nature Conservancy and Block Island Conservancy.
The access path has narrowed, and at the time of the party was not adequate for police and rescue services. It’s just one of a few of the problems Moynihan and Town Manager Maryanne Crawford asked for help with at the Land Trust meeting on Thursday, July 15.
Widening the path is easy, and has already been done. Stopping the under-age drinking is quite another matter. So is determining just where the teens are getting their alcohol. (It’s important to note that under Town of New Shoreham ordinances, drinking on beaches by adults is not allowed either.)
Land Trust Stewardship Director Harold “Turtle” Hatfield said he had watched people bringing drinks over from Ballard’s.
“That’s on Steve,” responded Moynihan, referring to Steven Filippi, owner of Ballard’s Beach Resort, who was present for the meeting. “It’s his responsibility to not let people leave with drinks.”
“Turtle, you have an open container problem,” said Filippi. “We keep people from taking alcohol off the property.”
“I’m just saying what I saw,” said Hatfield.
Trustee Wendy Crawford said that the area by the “jetty” just past the Spring House Pond was also a place where people were accessing that particular beach.
“I keep an eye on that in the morning,” said Moynihan. “People come off the boat and go right over there” to the Land Trust’s path.
“If kids are getting on the ferry with alcohol,” asked Chris Littlefield of The Nature Conservancy, “doesn’t it follow that the Narragansett Police or ferry check” the kids’ bags?”
“Police need reasonable suspicion to search bags,” said Moynihan. “If we get a tip at a liquor store,” it can be acted on. “We don’t want to be a police state.”
“We can control our beach,” said Land Trust Chair Barbara MacMullan. “We can’t tell Narragansett or the ferry what to do.”
With more discussion on the problem it was acknowledged that it was “everyone’s responsibility” to do their part. Moynihan asked the Land Trust to hire a security guard that can check bags and coolers for alcohol, especially on busy holiday weekends. It was suggested the Land Trust develop a policy banning alcohol from the property as a basis for the search and seizure. Land Trust Attorney Joe Priestley suggested having police nearby “in case people get out of hand.”
Trustee Keith Lang wanted to reiterate that: “It’s a problem beyond just this beach,” and the responsibility should be shared. “The question is, who should approach the ferry?”
“We should,” said Moynihan, adding that the police were having conversations with other establishments as well.
It was acknowledged that the problem of drinking on beaches, and in public in general, was a problem, and that if chased off one beach, party-goers were apt to simply find another place. “It’s like whack-a-mole,” said Moynihan. “But you’re making a strong statement.”