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Long Beach moves to avoid swimmer-surfer battle

With the beach under construction, surfers continue to

With the beach under construction, surfers continue to negotiate there way around one another. (Aug. 30, 2011) Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Long Beach has revised its proposed summer beach schedule after protests from swimmers who said the city was allowing surfers to take over too much of the beach.

The city's 3.5 miles of beach, beloved by locals and visitors, is one of Long Island's biggest tourist attractions, and every year the city crafts a plan to divide its use between swimmers and surfers.

A proposal released earlier this month, which city officials said was intended to be simpler than the 2012 plan, was widely criticized by residents who use the beach for swimming. The most controversial part divided the west central portion of the beach into five blocks and allowed surfers to use two of the blocks, which would rotate throughout the summer.

A new plan, released late yesterday by city manager Jack Schnirman, reduces surfing blocks in that area to one -- the same number as last year. The block dedicated to surfing would rotate among the five between May 25 and Sept. 3.

Schnirman said the city will post the new proposal on its website and take feedback from the public before making it official. The new plan won't be approved until "we feel that everyone is satisfied," he said.

Added city councilwoman Fran Adelson: "It goes to show you how important the beach is to this community."

Up to 15,000 people attend the beach on an average summer weekend day, and about 300 of them are surfers, said Paul Gillespie, the city's chief of lifeguards.

The city created the original proposal in coordination with local surfers, and considering feedback gleaned from a public hearing last year, Schnirman said.

But several residents who spoke at a May 7 city council meeting said the plan would overcrowd the beach with surfers.

"This is where we belong, on that beach," resident Virginia Kilduff said at the May 7 meeting. "I don't think 200 surfers have the right to take that away from taxpaying residents."

The five-block area where the surfing beach would rotate is located between Grand and Magnolia boulevards. The area would be "bathing only" between July 4 and 7. Other swimming-only and surfing-only beaches are designated elsewhere in the city.

Billy Kupferman, one of the surfers who helped the city craft the first proposal, said the controversy over the plan pitted swimmers against surfers, which was unfortunate. Swimmers, he said, were "upset about the space and rightfully so." In particular, the swimmers who lived on those five blocks thought the former proposal "placed an unfair burden" on them, he said.

"It's certainly not something that should drive neighbor against neighbor," he said.

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