Should Kennebunk restrict access to the beach? A conversation about the subject began Tuesday, March 24 at town hall. Here, a solitary walker enjoys the salt air at high tide on Wednesday, March 25. Tammy Wells photo

KENNEBUNK – With beaches in southern York County recently closed, should Kennebunk look for a method to restrict access to sand and surf?

Some say yes, others disagree, and on Tuesday March 24, members of the Select Board agreed that the question of closure or some other method of restricting access to the town’s beaches would require more thought.

The issue, which was not on the agenda, was raised by Select Board member Shiloh Schulte.

“There’s a lot of concern that as other beaches close, there will be more people coming to our beaches,” said Schulte.

York closed its beaches to public access on Monday, March 23. And even as the Kennebunk Select Board pondered the question briefly the following evening, Select Boards in Wells and Kittery were voting to close their beaches. Ogunquit has also followed suit.

Closure is designed to prevent crowds and people who were not practicing social distancing – staying six feet apart in an effort to prevent transmission of COVID-19.

Schulte suggested that rather than closing the beach, parking (with the exception of spots for handicapped parking) could be halted during the pandemic emergency.

“People could access the beach by walking or biking,” he said. adding another possibility was simply posting signs, asking people not to use the beach.

Select Board member Ed Karytko said some people just drive to the beach and sit in their car, just to get away.

“My concern about closing parking, is it means only healthy people will able to access the beach – (those who) who couldn’t walk or bicycle would be prohibited,” said Select Board member William Ward. Eliminating parking would also mean drivers would park on side streets, he pointed out.

“This is something we’ll have to think about a lot more carefully,” Ward said.

Schulte said his proposal was not the final one.

The board tasked Town Manager Mike Pardue with taking a look at the issue.

Select Board Chair Blake Baldwin on Wednesday, March 25, said he wasn’t sure the beach should be closed and he said the Select Board had been advised that the town’s ordinance does not provide for closure for any reason except for high surf.

“That was a surprise to all of us,” he said.

Baldwin said there have been a number of emails to the board and town manager, some in support of closing the beach, others asking that the town to keep access to the beach available.

“We’re not turning a blind eye to the issue; we may end up closing it, in name only,” said Baldwin. “We’re trying to do the best we can under difficult circumstances.”

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