By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – The state could re-open Hampton Beach to walking, surfing, and other transitory uses by June 1, according to a proposal the Hampton Chamber submitted to the Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force Friday.
It would mean driving and parking on Ocean Boulevard from A Street to O Street and reducing by half the number of other public and private park spaces, business owners hope.
Other beaches in Rye and North Hampton would stay closed and watch while the phased reopening at Hampton Beach plays out while the state continues to deal with the pandemic caused by COVID-19.
But when asked about the plan hours later at his press conference, Gov. Chris Sununu said he will not be making any fast decisions.
Sununu said the opening of beaches, with a phase two plan to allow for sitting on the beach in groups by July 4 “sounds great but how can we do it?”
“I give a lot of credit to the folks from Hampton Beach,” whom he noted he challenged to come up with guidance, but “I am not going to make any decisions immediately.”
Sununu said people need to be cognizant of our neighbors in Maine and Massachusetts and what they are doing with their beaches.
Massachusetts also has one of the nation’s largest outbreaks of COVID-19.
“I would love to do it,” he said. “But again, data drives everything.”
Hampton Beach is “vital to the state’s economy,” John Nyhan of the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce told fellow members as he presented the following proposal and asked for the task force’s approval. https://www.nheconomy.com/getmedia/719735a2-4e5b-45e3-9525-7a6825b1ba22/HamptonBeachTaskForceReport_1.pdf
– The state park parking spaces on Ocean Boulevard would be closed.
– The roadway along the boulevard adjacent to the beach would allow for outdoor dining and increased pedestrian room to improve social distancing.
– All events that encourage congregation is being postponed or canceled entirely for the summer.
– Bus tours will not be allowed under the proposal, except for dropping people off at hotels.
– Uber and Lyft and taxi service would be allowed only after daylight or beach hours.
– The area would need workforce assistance and foreign workers could be vetted and used in addition to New Hampshire residents looking for work.
– A state employee hiring freeze would need to be lifted immediately to help state parks manage the park and get their employees ready for a June 1 opening.
“Time is of the essence,” he said, noting the short season is quickly approaching.
D.J. Bettencourt, chair of the task force, asked about working with neighbors in Rye, Seabrook as well as local Massachusetts beaches in Newburyport and Salisbury.
Nyhan said he had been speaking with all the neighboring municipalities. Phil Bryce, director of State Parks, said he has been working with the local communities as well and he said a first step is a presentation to Hampton for approval and changes in the traffic, which is similar to what is done during the Seafood Festival each fall.
Bryce said he would look at restricted access and parking at park properties that don’t have a beach and may have a reservation system.
In neighboring Massachusetts, Salisbury Beach’s is open but its parking is closed.
If approved for reopening Hampton Beach, ADA compliance for the handicap would be required as part of the plan, Nyhan said.
Sen. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst, asked how “price gouging” for parking could be controlled? On a normal summer day, there are about 4,000 spaces. This would limit parking to 2,000 cars.
Private property owners count on a certain amount of revenue each year to pay for taxes. Nyhan said the chamber is actively working with the private owners of parking lots in and around Hampton and about 50 percent have been positive in their response to work to keep the rates low.
However, there are some that might have some issues and become problematic. He said it might require some sort of legal remedy or help from the governor.
Future phases would look to a plan that allows sunbathing and congregating on the beach, Nyhan said.
Bettencourt said we have “a wonderful proposal to work from” and noted it would have been problematic for the task force to have done so much work.
In other housekeeping matters, Bettencourt told the task force that he believes the “proper touch-up document” for partially opening restaurants and campground has been updated and posted on the website. The new restaurant guidance is here https://www.nheconomy.com/getmedia/18adfb79-db41-42dc-82f1-53025edf6906/20200501-restaurants.pdfbut and the new campground guidance is https://www.nheconomy.com/getmedia/248d9715-b3a0-4466-8be5-8b9132c641f0/20200105-campgrounds(1).pdf
As for cosmetology, some issues have been clarified to advance guidance for reopening hair salons, Bettencourt said. The current guidance document for cosmetology is https://www.nheconomy.com/getmedia/df04d1b0-e477-4051-a69b-1944d39dd9f5/Barber-and-Hair-Salons_5-1-20-Guidance.pdf
Chandley said it would have been her preference to delay the opening of salons but she said she feels the new document addresses issues raised about certain treatments, which salon owners wanted to perform other than just simple cuts and colors to add more lucrative treatments. The document has been revised to be based on time spent with a client rather than on the type of treatment.
A limit of 10 people in a salon is also problematic because people are not congregating as a group of 10, Chandley said and more work needs to be done on that.
In retail, Simon Malls is getting a letter of support for its reopening plan from the governor, Bettencourt said.
“We are going to be watching that very closely to make sure that is working next week,” Bettencourt said.
Next week, the task force will have presentations that have not yet been scheduled. A big discussion day will be on Monday. A voting day is planned for Tuesday to advance plans to the governor.
He received a correspondence from the New Hampshire Municipal Association to come in to present and they will come in on Thursday.
The meetings area at 1:30 p.m. daily and can be reached by 1-800-356-8278 and use the pin 600744.