The Other 99.9% of the Story re: Outer Beach Access at Smith Point County Park
Patchogue, NY - Regarding outer beach access at Smith Point County Park, Congressman Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1) released a statement today to clear up some extremely misleading statements now being circulated by two members of the Suffolk County Legislature and a political candidate serving as an aide to one of those County Legislators.
Since taking office in 2015, Congressman Zeldin has been in direct contact with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, including the Secretary of the Interior personally and directly, and Suffolk County officials in an attempt to address this issue. For many years, Smith Point Beach has been subject to restricted access for off road vehicles and closures due to the presence of protected birds. Last summer, county residents who paid for off-road vehicle permits to access Smith Point beach were unable to use them for up to two months and were not given refunds.
The related federal and state conservation laws have been in effect as long as 99 years. These laws grant local authorities permits to move protected birds and the option to formulate more flexible plans for beaches and other public access areas. This is the solution to ensure access at Smith Point and is similar to more flexible plans already in place at Cape Cod National Seashore and other beaches nationwide. These essential points, and the need for Suffolk County to take action have been driven home by Congressman Zeldin for nearly two years now, unfortunately with zero action taken by county officials and members of the county legislature to make the formal request.
In September 2016, in the midst of limited access and closures at Smith Point, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials, in response to advocacy from Congressman Zeldin, met with county officials and offered to work with Suffolk County to revise the conservation plan at Smith Point Beach and to also work with them on the permits necessary to relocate protected birds further downshore, away from vehicle traffic and beachgoers. Multiple meetings and conference calls between Suffolk County Parks officials and senior FWS officials were set up by Congressman Zeldin’s office to ensure a solution was reached. Congressman Zeldin also publicly called on County officials to move forward with implementing the solution, which you can read more about here. In October 2016, as a follow up to the September 2016 meeting, U.S. Fish and Wildlife also sent a letter to the Congressman’s office reaffirming their commitment to work with the county on alternative solutions, even proposing several options for consideration. You can view a copy of the letter here. USFWS October 2016 Letter.pdf
At the time, and to date, Suffolk County has not filed any of the paperwork necessary, or taken any other steps, to move forward with this process. This February, after 5 additional months of still zero action from local officials, Congressman Zeldin again called upon the county to take the necessary steps and work with U.S. Fish and Wildlife as the high season rapidly approached. You can view a copy of the letter here. County Executive Bellone Piping Plover Letter Feb 2017.pdf That letter was unanswered and outreach from Congressman Zeldin’s office to various county offices still resulted in zero action taken at the local level. Congressman Zeldin and his team continued to push county officials, following up with additional outreach and unanswered letters in April 2017, which you can view here. Legislator Browning Piping Plover Letter April 2017 .pdf County Executive Bellone Piping Plover Letter April 2017.pdf Congressman Zeldin also spoke directly to the new Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, about this and other local issues on March 24 of this year and secured the Secretary's commitment to help if the County was willing to work toward a solution. On April 5, 2017, Congressman Zeldin again met with Fish and Wildlife Regional Administrator Wendi Webber, also raising this issue directly with her and securing the continued commitment to solve the issues at Smith Point County Park if the County was willing to work with them.
It’s unfortunate that the County has still not taken the simple steps necessary to improve the management of Smith Point County Park and resorted to lies and finger pointing at a hastily called press conference today that still results in zero progress for local residents who hope to enjoy this county park this summer season and have paid the county for off road vehicle permits that may be rended useless because county officials have inexcusably dropped the ball.
Lack of flexibility in Suffolk County’s management plan at Smith Point beach means that protected birds aren’t moved further down the beach to areas away from vehicle traffic. There remains a standing offer from U.S. Fish and Wildlife to work on more flexibility at the beach. This unfortunate situation must be prevented this high season and that is why it’s essential that the county move forward to improve the management plan at Smith Point Beach. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been willing to work with county officials but necessary steps still have not been taken at the local level.
Congressman Zeldin said, “Growing up in Shirley, one of my fondest memories was accessing the outer beach at Smith Point County Park with friends and family by vehicle. It’s unfortunate that this has become an annual challenge where wildlife protected under federal law are shutting down access to one of Long Island's greatest treasures. I have always supported the immediate opening of this county operated beach. I believe that protecting wildlife is important, but it must be done in a flexible and reasonable way. The long term solution that is available to ensure this never happens again in the future is for Suffolk County to work with the federal Fish and Wildlife Service to formulate a new conservation plan for these birds that is both flexible and sensible. It is unfortunate that the county has not acted on this offer from the Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s disingenuous and unfair that the county continues to sell expensive off road access permits to this beach without taking necessary steps to ensure access. Additionally, contrary to untruthful claims by county officials, no new federal mandates have been imposed at Smith Point. The birds are protected by federal and state conservation laws - some as old as almost 100 years. This request from the county should be initiated as soon as possible so that the beach can be open and this annual challenge never happens again."
On June 15, 2017, Congressman Zeldin sent additional letters to County Executive Bellone and Legislator Browning regarding this issue. You can read copies of these letters below:
County Executive Bellone - Smith Point letter - June 15 2017.pdf