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Free Suffolk beach parking plan tightened to 105 degrees or more

Suffolk Legis. Jay Schneiderman, seen May 20, 2013.

Suffolk Legis. Jay Schneiderman, seen May 20, 2013. Credit: James Escher

A proposal to give the Suffolk County executive the power to waive the $8 parking fees at county beaches on the hottest summer days has changed so he can act only if it swelters to 105 degrees or more.

The resolution, sponsored by Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), was approved 4-1 by the county legislature’s parks committee after he limited the county executive’s power to when the National Weather Service issues an excessive heat warning. The full legislature is expected to vote on the proposal Tuesday.

An excessive heat warning is issued when the weather service forecasts temperatures will reach 105 degrees or higher for at least two hours. His earlier version would have allowed the county executive to authorize free beach parking when the National Weather Service issued a less stringent heat advisory or excessive heat watch.

“Now it’s extremely narrow and will limit it to an extreme heat event,” said Schneiderman. He called his proposal a public health measure to protect the young, old and sickly from the impact of extreme heat, especially for those who do not have air conditioning.

“If we can open up cooling centers, we should be able to open up the beaches,” he said.

The Bellone administration, which asked for the bill to be tightened, now supports the measure.

Thomas Vaughan, a Bellone aide, told committee members there have been only two instances in the past five years when the heat levels reached the required three-digit level.

One was July, 21 2011, when parking fees at the county’s three beaches brought in $9,974, and July 19, 2013, when the parking fees brought in $17,241. The county has 4,675 parking spaces at Smith Point in Shirley, Cupsogue in Westhampton and Meschutt in Shinnecock.

“It’s limited enough to help when needed but not overwhelming,” Vaughan said.

Legis. Thomas Cilmi (R-Bay shore) questioned whether free parking could also have an adverse impact on the extra cost of security and cleanup when free parking is allowed.

Park Commissioner Greg Dawson said the county already adds security and extra cleanup crews on hot days and called the added cost “negligible.”

Legis. William Lindsay (D-Oakdale), the lone no vote, later expressed concern about the fiscal impact.

“My concern is not so much this administration, but that future administrations may abuse it in election years,” he said. “And if it’s that hot, the beach is not the safest place to be in the middle of a heat wave.”

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