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Town removes barriers blocking disabled access at Tobay Beach

Peter Hawkins, of Malverne, seen here on Monday,

Peter Hawkins, of Malverne, seen here on Monday, June 5, 2017, rides his bike near an entryway where a gate and turnstile used to restrict access to Tobay Beach. Credit: Steve Pfost

The Town of Oyster Bay has removed a turnstile and gate from an entrance to Tobay Beach that were at the center of a discrimination complaint alleging that they made access to an adjoining restroom difficult for people with disabilities.

Andrew Hager, of Bellmore, filed a complaint with the federal government against the town in July 2015. The turnstile and a locked gate next to it impeded access to restrooms and a concession stand on the other side of a fence for people using wheelchairs or traveling on a bike path, he said.

In a resolution reached with the U.S. Department of the Interior, the town initially agreed to have a staff member open and close the gate during the hours the beach is open and leave the gate open at other times. But town officials later decided to remove the gate and not have a staff member present.

“Anyone who has the energy and the oomph to get to Tobay Beach by bicycle or by running should have easy access to the beach,” said Deputy Town Supervisor Greg Carman, who regularly cycles on the path.

Peter Hawkins, 53, of Malverne, a paraplegic who trains on the path with a specially designed racing wheelchair and on whose behalf the complaint was filed, called it “a great solution.”

An April 21 Interior Department letter said the town employee was to be at the gate to ensure only town residents had full access to the beach. But Carman said the department misunderstood the town’s position. Nonresidents always have been able to access the beach from the path, he said.

An Interior Department spokeswoman said department policy prohibits agency officials from commenting on legal settlements. Hager had filed his complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, which forwarded it to the Department of the Interior’s Office of Civil Rights.

The town constructed the fence in 2014 after completing a bike-path extension to the beach. Town officials said they wanted to keep bikes out of the beach parking lot, fearing they would collide with people or cars. The turnstile allowed most cyclists to use the restrooms and concessions on the other side of the fence.

But many people with disabilities couldn’t get through. Hawkins complained to town officials, who made a series of incremental changes, none of which fully solved the problem, Hawkins said. It would have been resolved earlier if officials had asked him or another person with a disability directly affected by the barriers for advice, Hawkins said.

“Instead of just doing the right thing, they had to piecemeal it, and then it finally came to the discrimination complaint,” Hawkins said.

Most of Hawkins’ conversations were with then-parks Commissioner Frank Nocerino.

Carman said he “can’t speak to the reasons that the decisions were made in the past. I’m sure they were done with the best of intentions. But that’s the past.”

Carman said town public safety officers will monitor cyclists to ensure they are riding safely in the parking lot.


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