WESTERLY — The Misquamicut beaches may have set a new, albeit ignominious, record over the course of the Fourth of July weekend, according to one longtime observer.
"People are just leaving their trash on the beach or not bothering to put it a receptacle. It was probably the worst weekend I've ever seen," said Caswell Cooke Jr., executive director of the Misquamicut Business Association.
On occasion, during past summers, Cooke has found fault with the state and asked for the town's assistance with trash along the Atlantic Avenue stretch of beach but this year, he said, the problems lie elsewhere.
"If the MBA could issue a public service announcement it would be, 'Guys, we want you to visit our beaches. We want you to use our beaches but please be respectful," Cooke said.
On Monday, Cooke said both the state, in its operation of Misquamicut State Beach, and the twon seem to be doing a good job making receptacles available and emptying them.
Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey said his officers have been instructed to issue infractions for all incidents of littering that they witness. "There's no officer discretion on this," Lacey said.
The challenge for police, Lacey said, is catching individuals in the act of littering. Often, he said, the trash that has been left behind doesn't become completely apparent until the beaches have closed for the day and trash is left on the beach, parking lots, or the side of the road.
Lacey, Town Manager J. Mark Rooney and Julia Beasley, director of the town's Recreation Department, which manages the two town beaches, plan to meet today to review the town's protocol for the beaches, Lacey said. He served as interim town manager over the weekend while Rooney was away and as a result was aware of complaints made about the trash situation.
"If changes have to be made then hopefully we can make them. Obviously, it's not very welcoming if people come into town and see trash all over the place. It absolutely should be cleaned up," said Lacey.
Lacey and Beasley both said the volume of visitors to the beach this season is easily outpacing prior seasons. To illustrate the point, Beasley said, the two town beaches usually have used about eight cases of toilet paper by this time of the season but this year 20 cases have been used so far. Similarly, she said the beaches have usually used about seven cases of trash bags but have used 15 cases so far this season.
"The good news is that lot's of people love to visit our beaches," Beasley said.
Another unusual occurrence, Beasley said, is an apparent increase in after hours visitors. When beach staff arrive in the morning, Beasley said, they often find the trash receptacles nearly full despite having been emptied at the close of the previous day.
Beasley said part of the trash problem stems from excessive use of single-use plastic items. When the Recreation Department conducts its annual Green the Beach day on July 19, Beasley said those who attend will be challenged to avoid the use of single-use plastic all day.