EASTHAM — The select board and Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe are demanding that the National Park Service allow Eastham residents full access to the parking lot at Nauset Light Beach, accusing the Park of violating an agreement with the town over use of the lot.
Beebe and board chair Art Autorino said they would be sending a letter to National Seashore Supt. Brian Carlstrom this week following more than 50 reports that Eastham residents had been denied access to the lot, Beebe said. The letter demands that Carlstrom resolve the issue within one week.
The parking lots at Nauset Light and Coast Guard Beach, the other Park Service-managed beach in Eastham, are divided into two parts: one-third of the spaces are reserved for Eastham taxpayers and the other two-thirds are designated for visitors with Park Service passes. Normally, select board members said, the NPS portions of the lots are fuller, while there tends to be space in the areas reserved for Eastham locals.
But over the last month, Beebe said, the town has received dozens of reports of Eastham residents being denied access to free parking in the NPS portion of the Nauset Light Beach parking lot when the Eastham section has been full. A daily pass at Park beaches costs $25.
The letter argues that the Park Service’s refusal to accept Eastham taxpayer stickers violates a 2022 agreement setting terms for parking at the two beaches. It states that the NPS must “continue to maintain and provide Taxpayer parking spaces at NPS-managed lots, to honor current year taxpayer stickers, and to allow Taxpayers to park anywhere in NPS-managed lots.”
The letter also says NPS ignores the terms of a 1965 deed conveying the beaches from Eastham to the Park Service on the condition that Eastham taxpayers reserve “the right to use [Nauset Light] beach and adjacent waters for swimming, the adjacent parking area, and without charge.”
“The deed is not ambiguous, and the Board will not agree to relinquish any rights for its residents and taxpayers,” Beebe and Autorino wrote in the letter.
The letter demands “that the agreements be honored immediately.”
National Seashore Deputy Supt. Leslie Reynolds on Monday defended the Park Service’s interpretation of the 1965 deed and 2022 agreement, saying that Eastham residents were not entitled to park in non-Eastham spaces without paying.
“We still manage our lot for the visiting public, which we charge a fee for,” Reynolds said. “So, if the Eastham lot fills up and an Eastham resident comes over to our lot and says, ‘I can park here because I’m an Eastham resident,’ the answer would be ‘No.’ ”
Reynolds maintained that the terms of the deed were being honored. “They are swimming, they are parking, they are enjoying the beaches like it says in the deed,” she said.
But Autorino, Beebe, and select board member Aimee Eckman all said the agreement and deed required that Eastham residents be given free access to the entire parking lot, not just the spots reserved for Eastham residents.
“It’s pretty clear-cut — we can park in any spot,” Autorino said. “We allowed the Seashore to take over our beaches. But the caveat was that we would always be able to park for free.”
“We want to have them hold up their end of the deal, fair or not,” Eckman said. “I just don’t get why they’re digging their heels in.”
The letter to the Park Service makes no mention of legal action. But during a July 24 meeting, the select board hinted that such a move might be on the table if NPS refuses to change its position.
Carlstrom “has to understand that if he continues to say we can’t do it, then our recourse is legal,” Autorino said. He suggested giving Carlstrom one week to respond.
Beebe said if the Park Service does not resolve the situation, “We would confer with counsel about any next steps.” She said the board may go into executive session with town counsel during its next meeting on Aug. 8 if needed.
The Park Service and the town also seem to disagree over the legal weight of the 2022 parking agreement. Reynolds insisted that it was “not a contract” and not legally binding. “A general agreement is more like, we agree to this, and it’s on paper, and you have two signatures,” she said.
But Beebe said she understood the agreement to be legally binding, saying the divide between “contract” and “agreement” was a distinction without a difference. Autorino concurred: “Why is it not a legally binding contract? They signed it, and we signed it.”
“The most upsetting part of this for our select board and for me personally is that we have always had a really close, collaborative working relationship with the Park,” Beebe said. “How can we sign an agreement and have such different views of what that agreement actually says? It seems shocking to me.”
During the July 24 meeting, Beebe said she had spoken to Carlstrom, who she said defended the Park Service’s actions out of “fairness” concerns for nonresident beach visitors. She said Carlstrom wanted to amend the agreement and clarify the Park Service’s interpretation. But town officials said they were uninterested in renegotiating the five-year agreement, noting that the negotiations for the 2022 agreement had been protracted.
Those negotiations largely concerned the loss of parking space at Nauset Light Beach due to erosion, which Reynolds said was ongoing: “Someday, that parking lot will be in the ocean.” She said the Park Service was engaged in long-term planning to establish offsite parking for the beach.
This is the second time in the past few months that the Park Service has been accused of failing to uphold its side of an agreement with Outer Cape towns. In May, the Park Service issued a request for proposals to lease eight historic dune shacks in Provincetown and Truro that appeared to ignore a 2012 agreement about how the properties could be leased, prompting objections from select boards in both towns.