Common Sense Solutions: Compo Beach

This is the seventh of an eight-part digital series where I address my positions on a range of different town issues that Westporters care about. Click on the first six of the series to see them: Traffic, School Funding, the Arts Center at Barons South, Affordable Housing, Revitalizing our Business Districts and Planning.

Dear Neighbors,

This summer, there were many complaints about the condition of Compo Beach — long lines to enter, no place to park, crowding and dirty bathrooms. In response, a group of Westporters calling themselves “Friends of Compo Beach: created a new website where you can register your concerns. The site is worth visiting, and it’s great that Westporters are getting involved.

Here’s my two cents, which I know may not be popular with everybody. Our beach has problems, but the answer is not to blame out of towners. Westport is an inclusive community, and trying to exclude non-Westporters by raising fees is bad policy and possibly illegal. Given what’s happening around the world, we shouldn’t just give lip service to the principle of inclusiveness. We should live by it.

There are two other facts to consider. First, non-Westporters pay to use our beach — currently $30 on weekdays and $50 on weekends and holidays, which is more than Sherwood Island charges.

Second, if every Westporter with a beach pass used the beach, we’d have the same problems with crowding and dirty bathrooms.

Westport should be capable of welcoming both residents and visitors to our beach and providing them with a safe, clean and pleasant experience.

So how do we make the beach better? Here are some common sense solutions:

First, having visitors buy passes at the gate snarls traffic and inconveniences everyone. One solution is to require advance purchase of daily passes online or in person. The problem is that non-Westport cars will still show up at the last minute without a pass and have to turn around, causing traffic jams. So I suggest that we create separate lines for season pass holders and others at the beach entrance.

Second, common sense says that repair projects such as the pavilion roof shouldn’t be started and left unfinished during the summer season. And, by the way, let’s abandon ideas for a new $4 million pavilion to replace our historic structure. It’s too expensive.

Third, if our Parks & Recreation Department can’t keep the beach clean during the season, why not outsource maintenance? We’ve done it successfully at the golf course.

Who will pay for outsourcing? Let’s make sure every penny earned from selling beach passes to nonresidents goes directly into beach maintenance and improvements. That way, non-Westporters will be paying their share of the cost of beach maintenance. And we can price out of town passes based on our actual expenses. Then, if we want to raise prices, we can base the increase on facts, not exclusionary policies that may not pass legal muster.

If you have other suggestions, please let me know. I think that if we listen to each other and look for common sense solutions, we can address our residents’ concerns about the beach while honoring our tradition as a community that welcomes everybody.

Best, John