The Beach Aint Free
by Gary Pendleton
It is human to mourn for what is lost. For example, I cant stand to hike in Shenandoah National Park now that the beautiful, cool shady Hemlock Groves are no more. Most of the hemlocks have died, killed by a little insect called the woody adelgid. In this case there is no one to blame or to complain to.
In North Beach, the town council is taking the blame.
On June 5 the North Beach Town Council, of which I am a member, voted to charge non-residents a fee to use the beach. Folks who had previously savored the simple pleasure of a free walk on the beach now have to pay four bucks.
Theyre feeling what I feel about Hemlock Groves.
In response to the beach fee, Ive read countless comments in dozens of e-mails. I wont try to address, rebut, correct or affirm them. The history of our little plot of sand is subject to widely varying interpretations. Ill just speak for myself, looking forward from today.
I see a clean, well-groomed, family-friendly place. I see a beach that, because of sea-level rise, loses sand every day. Thanks to all the riprap and bulkheads on the shore, that sand is not replaced. I see a beach that would barely exist if not for tons of sand delivered by the truckload.
To maintain this clean, well-groomed beach indeed, to ensure that there will even be a beach in years to come North Beach will spend money, probably a lot of money. I do not believe there will be state, county or federal funds to replenish the beach. We have to plan for the high cost of trucking in sand some time in the future in addition to the daily costs of cleaning and grooming.
At one time, a sandy beach covered virtually the entire North Beach waterfront, and reliable sources tell me that 40 years ago there was an 80-foot wide beach at Seventh Street. Now all that remains is the section at Fifth Street and Bay Avenue. It is a remnant, like a shirttail. It will continue to exist only if there remains the human will to keep it that and the expenditure of greenbacks.
I think most people wont object to contributing their fair share. I am open to suggestions for less painful ways to collect fees, but I wont publicly speculate whether the Town Council will take up the matter.
The message I want to express here is that the beach aint free not for anyone, not really. It will take money and commitment to counter the geologic and meteorological forces that are eroding this beach. When strong NorEasters hit the Calvert County shore, the beach loses tons of sand. It is fair to ask those who enjoy our beach no matter where they live to share in the cost of preservation. By doing so they are helping us to make sure that there will be a beach to come back to.
Another council decision generating complaint including a heavy-handed, Internet propaganda campaign is the July 10 vote to close the town fishing pier between the hours of 11pm and 6am. As with the vote to charge a beach fee, it was unanimous.
Our reasons included noise, public drinking and lack of overnight restroom facilities. We postponed the decision a year ago, hoping the problems would resolve themselves. They didnt.
The most intractable was the towns inability to provide 24-hour restrooms. Leaving the restrooms open makes them vulnerable to abuse. Closing the restrooms leads to worse abuse. Fish gotta swim, as they say, and people gotta use the john. Where are people going to go to relieve themselves if there are no facilities? Sadly, some inevitably show very poor judgment. We have seen the evidence.
Thus the pier like the restrooms is open 19 hours a day. For a nominal fee, anyone can fish there.