By Dan Moffett
Like an incoming tide, Ocean Ridge commissioners are inching closer and closer to finding a line in the sand where public and private interests can coexist in peace.
After months of debate, the commission has settled on a demarcation line that will enable police to enforce beach behavior and also agreed on language for signs that will inform beachgoers about the town’s rules.
Town Manager Ken Schenck told commissioners at the Dec. 1 meeting that, over the years, the state has drawn boundaries between public and private beachfront in determining the erosion control line and mean high water line.
“There are two separate erosion control lines,” Schenck said. “The line north of Anna Street was established in 1997 and the line south of Anna Street was established in 1987.”
The southern erosion control line was the same as the mean high water line, Schenck said, but the MHWL is not permanent while the ECL is, and complicating the matter is that the eastern boundaries of private property lines are not uniform and in fact vary considerably.
Confused? Town Attorney Ken Spillias says you probably should be.
“That’s what we’ve been struggling with — the absence of bright lines,” said Spillias, who thinks it would probably take a court case for the town to get a “clear delineation” of where public and private rights meet on many properties in the town.
“I think what the manager (Schenck) is trying to do is identify an acceptable approach to enforcement,” Spillias said.
Commissioner Richard Lucibella called it “not a directive but an expectation.” He said the police have to figure it out and know where the property lines are.
Schenck said that when police are patrolling the beaches, they will address any violations they see. “When addressing trespassing,” he said in a memo to commissioners, “the property owner or an authorized representative must make the complaint and request the individual move and the police will document the notice.”
On a 4-1 vote with Commissioner James Bonfiglio dissenting, the commission gave preliminary approval to language for signs at the crossovers. Signs won’t say “Beach Access” at the top, but instead simply “Town of Ocean Ridge.”
Commissioners decided against “No Unloading,” settling instead for “No Stopping,” a concession to residents who believe it’s unreasonable to expressly prohibit motorists from dropping off people or possessions at the roadside. Signs will say no to dogs, glass and vehicles on the beach.
Lucibella said the sometimes stormy yearlong debate should not be misinterpreted as an effort to restrict public access.
“This is not about moving people off the beach, closing the beach or arresting people for trespassing,” he said. “It’s about recognizing your property rights. And you can’t recognize private property rights until you know where the property is.”