The lack of mask wearing and social distancing at Saco’s beaches – as well as parking issues –  are under discussion by the City Council as they try to keep people safe during the coronavirus pandemic. Tammy Wells Photo

SACO — How to keep beachgoers and residents of beachside neighborhoods safe during this pandemic summer is on the minds of Saco city officials — and on the minds of residents who tell authorities that matters are getting out of hand.

Parking on both sides of the roadways near beaches, clogging narrow streets, and parking too close to driveways — and therefore reducing visibility — is causing consternation among residents and authorities. As well, there are the issues on the beach itself, from beach-goers not wearing a face covering as they head down the walkways to the sand and not keeping six feet away from others.

Councilors on July 20 mulled the possibility of hiring reserve police officers, private security, beach ambassadors or having School Resources Officers, currently working as Community Resource Officers, educating beachgoers on masks and social distancing, but that seems unlikely.

A family heads down a walkway to Bayview Beach in Saco on a recent weekday. Tammy Wells Photo

Police Chief Jack Clements said the Community Resource Officers already have a host of tasks, the department is down four officers, and with the short window of summer remaining, hiring reserve officers or others might not be feasible.

“As a shoreline resident, I support any safety measures,” resident David Plavin told the City Council in their online meeting. “There’s an obvious disregard for masks and social distancing.”

As well, Plavin said there is little being done to address traffic at any of Saco’s beach communities, and suggested the city establish rules for the pandemic and beyond, such as ticketing drivers who park where they’re not supposed to and more.

Another resident said there wasn’t much social distancing on the beaches on the weekend of July 18 and 19.

Councilor Lynn Copeland read from more than 10 emails she’d received on the issues.

One writer told Copeland that parking is an issue and the current signs are confusing.

“If you can’t see out of your driveway (because of cars parked too close) it’s an accident waiting to happen,” another individual wrote.

A resident at Kinney Shores said when Route 9 was widened, he was told no parking would be allowed on either side of the street — but now, people do park there.

Another writer said resident beachgoers have to compete for parking with those from out of town.

Mayor William Doyle said the issues are longstanding, but worsened by the pandemic.

“I think that is why we need to look at a comprehensive approach,” he said, adding the city’s traffic safety committee would be the best venue for the issues.

Councilor Joseph Gunn pointed out that he’s seen Maine’s coronavirus numbers, which had been plateauing, going up, and asked that the city use its resources to “get people to do the right thing.”

“If you don’t wear a mask in 2020 you’ll be wearing one in 2021,” Gunn predicted.

Councilor Alan Minthorn said he’d posted a Facebook message at one point that pointed to the lack of mask wearing and that four days later, the Recreation Department had reported a 50 percent increase in the use of masks at Bayview Beach — an indication to Minthorn that locals were involved, not visitors.

“The parking is a tourist problem and some tourists don’t wear masks, but the increase in mask wearing was local,” said Minthorn of the recent increase. “We need to get a handle on the public health and look at the public safety long term.”

“We need to come up with a comprehensive plan for parking at the beach,” said Minthorn of that issue, suggesting the one-way use of some roads during the beach season.

Public Works Director Patrick Fox said the department would work on signs; he said asking a volunteer to deal with mask wearing “is probably asking for a confrontation.”

The city’s Traffic Safety Committee looked at a number of parking related issues a few days later at their July 23 meeting and voted to implement a number of measures, such as: allowing a mirror at Shore Avenue and Seaside Avenue to enhance visibility; to make permanent an emergency order that designated parking at the river access on Ferry Road; to post “no parking” on either side of Seaside Avenue from Pond Avenue to Sylvan Avenue; to restrict parking on the south side of King Avenue; and to designate “no parking” on Surf Avenue from Sylvan Avenue to Lighthouse Lane, due to the narrowness of the roadway, among other issues.

After considerable discussion, a request to designate no public parking on Morris Avenue was tabled until a comprehensive review of the matter is undertaken.

City Councilor Copeland suggested the committee examine the use of resident only parking permits for the beaches.

“It’s time to think outside the box a bit bigger,” she said.

“I think we’ll always be analyzing parking at the beach and I think there are things we can do throughout the winter for traffic safety (next summer),” said committee member Fox, the Public Works director. “As to who occupies parking spots, that should be a council level decision … it goes outside the traffic safety realm.”

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