By JOHN T. WARD
Suntanning beachgoers and devotees of the summertime concerts at Sandy Hook can kiss their favorite alcoholic beverages goodbye.
Citing 328 alcohol-related incidents between 2016 and 2018, officials have banned all forms of booze from the waterfront park, the last public beach in New Jersey where it was still allowed.
The ban, announced Tuesday, was the result of discussions “up the chain” at the National Park Service, which manages the federal property between the Atlantic Ocean and Sandy Hook Bay, said Gateway National Park spokeswoman Daphne Yun.
It followed several years in which park visitors were involved in “some very serious alcohol-related” incidents, she said.
A prepared statement cited a man who fell four feet from a loading dock because he thought it was a short cut between a snack area and a bathroom; a motor vehicle accident in which four people were injured, two badly enough to require airlifting to hospitals; and a man who passed out in the sand with waves breaking over his head.
The park had become “a party beach,” Chief Ranger Greg Norman said in the statement statement. “People don’t come here for a beer, they come here for a six pack.”
In addition, more than half of all arrests in the park were alcohol-related, Yun said.
“Alcohol consumption in combination with summer heat and water-based activities can present a deadly situation for visitors,” Gateway Superintendent Jen Nersesian said in the announcement. “The safety of our visitors is our number one priority, and we feel this change will help promote this.”
The ban, effective immediately, means alcohol will no longer be allowed, whether it’s a frosty beer under the afternoon sun or a bottle of rosé during one of the park’s popular Wednesday-night beach concerts in the summer.
First-time violators face fines of $50, with the price tag for second violations rising to $100, Yun said. But for the most part, park rangers will focus in the first year on educating the public about the change, issuing warnings, she said.
Visitors may be asked to show what’s in their coolers, and those with beer, wine or other alcoholic beverages will be told to put the booze back in their vehicles, she said.
Those who come from New York City via Seastreak ferry will be warned before they board that they’ll have to discard their booze before debarking at Sandy Hook, she said.
The ban won’t affect permitted events such as weddings at the Sandy Hook Chapel or other permit holders.
Yun said the public is welcome to attend an information session to hear more about the rationale for the change and ask questions from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 11 in the chapel.
Smoking is also prohibited on beaches at Sandy Hook, with designated smoking areas in all parking lots.