DUXBURY — Every summer for the last seven years, Eileen Dunn has paid this coastal town nearly $300 for the privilege of driving onto Duxbury Beach to enjoy weekend cookouts under the sun with her family and friends.
Dunn, an Abington resident, said the permit gives her access to her own “beachfront property” on the South Shore.
“When we were younger we could come down with a wagon with the kids, but now we have to drive,” said her husband, Ron, as the two lounged on the beach Wednesday afternoon.
But starting Friday night, the Dunns and scores of other permit holders will be barred from driving onto the beach until possibly July 15, because a flock of endangered shorebirds called piping plovers is nesting there.
Duxbury residents will still be able to use a locals-only parking lot and walk to sections of the beach. But residents and nonresidents who paid $160 and $295, respectively, for a pass to park on the beach will be out of luck — and they are fuming. Some are seeking refunds.
“It’s ridiculous,” Dunn said. “In this economy, you can’t be taking people’s money and not letting them do what they paid for.”
More than 4,800 people have joined a Facebook group called “Duxbury Advocates,” demanding city officials explain the closures.
Selectman Shawn Dahlen defended the town’s actions, saying it is Duxbury’s duty to implement state regulations regarding endangered species. He said there will be a Town Meeting on Monday dedicated to explaining and discussing the issues with the community.
Permits to park on or near the beach contributed $1.7 million to the town’s coffers last fiscal year, Dahlen said.
Piping plovers are classified as threatened on the state and federal endangered species lists. At least 18 pairs of the birds and 18 nests were seen on the beach as of Thursday evening, according to the Duxbury Harbormaster Department.
Sections of the beach are closed every year to allow the chicks to hatch and grow, but this is the first time the town has ever closed beach parking access, Harbormaster Don Beers said.
The reason: Winter storms have made conditions on Duxbury Beach ideal for the plovers, causing more to nest in the dunes, he said. The beach usually has only about 20 pairs of birds nesting over an entire summer, he added.
Four nests have been built near four narrow routes that lead to the beach, a “highly unusual” occurrence, Beers said.
Dahlen said the state requires a 100-yard buffer to the north and south of each nest, where vehicles cannot pass.
“It only takes four nests to bring Duxbury to its knees,” Beers said of the controversy that has become the talk of this small town.
Duxbury Beach, secluded and accessible by car only via a wooden bridge, is considered to be the best beach in the area, said resident Joanne Dalton.
“That’s why people live here,” she said as she strolled along the beach with a friend Wednesday. “I don’t think its fair to have bought tickets for something you can’t use. That is the crux of the matter.”
Karen O’Brien and Jessica Hoguet, both of Duxbury, were walking two dogs on the beach when they paused to look at a section that had been cordoned off. While O’Brien sympathized with those who have lost access the beach, she said the town’s hands were tied.
“They are just following the law,’’ she said. “I think it is what it is.”
Added Hoguet: “You have to have the conservation; otherwise you lose the beach.”
Although the town has said sections of the beach may not reopen until July 15, Beers said that is a worst-case scenario.
Plovers, he said, are highly unpredictable.
Some of the chicks could hatch as early as this weekend and move on, or a storm could force them to relocate. He said the town will monitor the birds’ movements closely and reopen vehicle access as soon as the birds are clear.