Suffolk Parks Commissioner Greg Dawson said Wednesday that part of the outer beach at Smith Point County Park will open to four-wheel drive vehicles starting today.
Dawson's comment came after a half-dozen fishermen and beach buggy activists complained to county lawmakers about the lack of beach access to Smith Point, Cupsogue, Shinnecock and other county locations that permit vehicles if they pay a $93 annual fee.
"Why are the beaches not open," said Ed Newman, noting that more than 15,000 off-road vehicles use the county parks. "Loading the family into a truck and going to the beach is a fun, cost-effective way to spend a Saturday . . . and one of the key reasons many of us still live on Long Island. That option is currently being taken away from us."
Dawson, testifying at the county legislature's parks committee, said access to the outer beach was delayed by the Army Corps of Engineers dredging project to restore the beach, damaged by superstorm Sandy. That work started late last year and stopped beach access. The project, half complete, was halted April 1. It is expected to begin again in late September.
Dawson said the opening was further delayed because the park staff had to put up snow fencing along the 5-mile stretch of beach.
But Dawson also cautioned that only about a half-mile of the outer beach will be open immediately because piping plovers, an endangered species, have already landed. The county, under an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, must monitor and protect nesting spots from April to September.
The park commissioner, however, added the situation may be better this summer because a dirt path that runs through the dunes, popularly known as Burma Road, may allow four-wheel vehicles access to the beach between nesting areas.