Managing July Fourth water traffic vital

Police say there were 27 passengers on a Police say there were 27 passengers on a vessel that capsized in Oyster Bay and 24 were rescued, authorities say. (July 4, 2012) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

There used to be a lot of July Fourth fireworks displays on Long Island. But that was before a slew of municipalities began canceling the venerable holiday tradition for insurance reasons, beginning in the 1980s.

The best shows, public and private, that still occur attract big crowds on land and water. That's why many municipalities let it be known early on how they plan to control the crowds.

The Town of Huntington, anticipating the crowd at Asharoken Village's fiery display, limited Crab Meadow Beach parking to town residents. When those lots were full -- by 8 p.m., as officials had predicted -- the town redirected traffic and temporarily shut down a portion of Waterside Avenue.

As a dive team from the Federal Bureau of Investigation prepares to salvage a 34-foot cabin cruiser that sank July Fourth in Oyster Bay, drowning three children, it's time to consider: Is there a better way to handle July Fourth traffic on Long Island's waterways, too?

Law enforcement officials have yet to formally determine why the Kandi Won, which was carrying 27 passengers, capsized and sank. Boaters -- and it remains miraculous to consider, almost a week later -- quickly plucked 24 survivors, including at least seven children, from the water.

Boaters in the area also said that it was crowded and potentially dangerous.

"The Fourth of July in general is ugly," said Walter Zalak of Huntington. "It's just chaos. Everybody and their mother goes out."

Skinnyguy 58 had this to add in a comment on Newsday.com: "It's mayhem trying to leave the area by boat right after the Dolan fireworks end. I would always stay at anchor for 30 minutes and let all the boozed up boaters get away first."

According to police, the accident victims said they were in Oyster Bay to see the fireworks display put on by the Dolans. The Dolan family owns a controlling interest in Cablevision, which owns Newsday and News 12 Long Island.

Some of that "chaos" could be addressed by Skinnyguy 58's common-sense solution: Wait, or perhaps anchor farther away from the fireworks safety zone set by the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard did not have a patrol boat off Cove Neck on July Fourth, officials said, but local authorities did have patrol boats in the area.

Could designated anchor zones make future July Fourth nights safer for boaters? That's what the Coast Guard does for the much larger fireworks display in New York City, citing "the combination of increased numbers of recreation vessels, congested waterways . . . [and] darkness punctuated by bright flashes of light."

What about a temporary speed limit to avoid wake? That could be difficult to enforce, especially since some municipalities have cut back their marine units. But public service announcements reminding boaters to go slow when the show is over could help calm things down.

So could more safety training for operators, as Suffolk County Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) is proposing. Boaters who know the waters off Long Island likely will have other suggestions.

All should be considered as part of the ongoing investigation into what happened, and why.

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