MADISON — After residents complained about beach overcrowding due to a new computerized beach parking system and low hourly parking rates for nonresidents, the Board of Selectman increased fees and enforcement at all town beaches.
Most of the complaints stemmed from overcrowding during the Fourth of July weekend, when Hammonasset State Park closed at 11 a.m. and the overflow was guided to Madison beaches.
While the residential season pass remains at $40 and the daily pass $10, visitor rates will increase immediately. Residents can purchase season passes at buymypermit.com/madisonct/.
Hourly parking rates for visiting all town beaches will increase from $3 to $10, payable through PassportParking.com. Hourly rates will be replaced by daily rates as soon as the software can be updated by the system provider, Complus Data.
The daily parking rates, to be effective in about two weeks, will be Monday through Thursday, $50 and Friday, Saturday and Sunday and holidays, $75.
This is comparable to parking rates being charged at the Clinton beach. In Guilford, the daily rates are $7 for a resident and $10 for nonresidents.
In addition, enforcement hours were increased at all beaches. The Surf Club parking will be monitored from 9:30 a.m. until 8 p.m., while enforcement at West Wharf and East Wharf beaches will be from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.
At a standing-room-only special meeting July 11, Beach and Recreation Commission Chair Rob Card and Beach and Recreation Department Director Scot Erskine presented their recommendations to the Board of Selectman.
All changes were unanimously approved by the Board of Selectman.
“By state law, we have to allow nonresidents to go to our beaches,” said First Selectman Tom Banisch. “We’re allowed to be compensated for parking.
“The people in Madison pay taxes to maintain these beaches. People from out of town don’t pay anything to maintain our beaches, so if they come we expect there to be kind of compensation towards our expenses.”
When the electronic system to monitor beach parking was introduced, guard gate positions were eliminated, which is a concern of residents. These positions will be reinstated, “probably just for the weekend,” said Banisch.
This is the first year that visitor parking at all three town beaches is paid for through a website.
Erskine explained that the computerized system has had some glitches. Since the new system went into effect many local residents have received tickets even though they have registered their vehicles online.
“We are doing readings, we are ticketing,” said Erskine. “We are still having some issues with readers with various plates. Some is data entry. People, on their registrations it may be an ‘O,’ it may be a zero, it may be an ‘L,’ and it’s a one on the reader.
“They’re (Complus Data) working on that to clear that up, so what we are urging people to do, if they do get a ticket, just go to the Surf Club office and they will invalidate it, because they have the system down there, as well.”
Card and Selectman Scott Murphy announced at the meeting that they, in fact, had received tickets. During his presentation, Card waved his ticket in the air.
“I also want you to know that I registered my vehicle and I’m one of you,” he said, facing the crowded room full of residents. “I did receive a ticket this past weekend, but I went down to the Surf Club and I talked to the kids that work there and they were great, they fixed it and figured out what it was.”
Murphy expressed his dismay at the problems with the system.
“That was somewhat of a surprise to me, working in technology, that a vendor that’s coming in with pedigree and credentials and had obviously sold us on their experience hadn’t seen this problem before,” he said. “I’m amazed we’re the first town that would experience an ‘O’ vs. a whatever. ... I’m surprised that there’s either no conversion behind the scenes, that the technology can’t handle and/or they haven’t seen it before, because we’re clearly not the first town that’s rolled out this software.”
Card addressed the crowd regarding the commission’s rationale for going to the online system. The intent was to eliminate the lines at the entrance to the Surf Club and reduce confrontations between guard gates and the public, he said.
In addition, Card said, “The system will support cost savings, revenue collections — there were people who came to the beach, that came in and didn’t necessarily pay — and then we have data collections.”
Residents also brought up during the public comment period the fact that there are no lifeguards at any of the town beaches. Lifeguard positions were eliminated last year.
“If we could get lifeguards, we would have lifeguards,” Banisch said. “We had three applications this year. Scot (Erskine) tried to build a force, but we couldn’t build a force that was adequate to do the Surf Club on the weekend.”
Resident Joan Walker said she wants to see gate guards and life guards at the beaches.
“Increased security and support and oversight of the beaches is what’s needed,” she said. “The same argument could be made for lifeguards. Having stronger supervision and oversight will only help them do their jobs and make the beaches safer.”
Jim Lava, who has lived on Linden Lane, near East Wharf Beach, for 33 years, voiced his concerns.
“I live a couple hundred yards from the beach and I’ve never seen it as big a mess as it is right now,” he said. “The old pass situation may not have worked to the best, but at least there was someone governing it. Right now, we have chaos. I can’t get out of my driveway on a Saturday or Sunday.”
After over an hour of discussion, the Board of Selectman agreed that this issue was not something to be rushed, and more meetings and discussions will be held.
“I believe the public deserves an apology for how this program has been implemented and communicated. I think we could have done a lot better,” Selectman Al Goldberg said, resulting in applause from the crowd.