BURRILLVILLE – Day passes at Spring Lake Beach will increase by $1 for the 2023 season to allow operations to break even, following a year where staffing issues and closures once again led to downed attendance at the facility.
And beach officials questioned this week if the testing by the Rhode Island Department of Health that led to one shut down at the end of the season was accurate, noting they’ve found multiple discrepancies with the agency’s results.
An end-of-year report presented to the Town Council this week stated the beach had 26,927 patrons in the 2022 summer season, compared to 38,000 in a normal year. The low attendance was the result, at least in part, of the abbreviated season, with the facility open only 74 of a potential 91 days..
“This year was marred by Rhode Island Department of Health threatened closings and one complete DOH shutdown in late August through Labor Day,” noted a communication from Public Works Director Jeff McCormick and beach officials.
The end of the summer shut down followed a reported discovery of blue/green algae, but McCormick said that beach staff have found inconsistencies with DOH’s testing, and that they are now using the firm RI Analytical to implement their own.
“We’re asking to opt out of the state testing and do our own,” he noted. “We will continue to test under the guidance of the Rhode Island Department of Health every three weeks.”
Town Manager Michael Wood said officials have known there was a problem with state testing for several years.
“We’d get results back that we didn’t understand, so we started to pay for tests,” Wood said. “Whenever the state came in, we would do the tests. We ended up disproving the state’s testing in many cases.”
Wood said the new, alternative tests are of the same quality and standards as those used by DOH.
“The testing service we used, we believe, is more reliable,” he said.
On Tuesday, Dec. 13, the group – which also included beach Manager Judy Lopez and Parks & Recreation Director Andrea Hall – requested $2,500 to hire an environmental consultant to look into the blue/green algae shutdown.
“We didn’t understand it,” McCormick said.
Staffing was also a major problem this year, and for the first time, the beach offered bonuses to keep lifeguards on duty.
“Lifeguards can seemingly hold the entire operation hostage as there are limited candidates due to testing and availability,” noted the report.
The lifeguard shortage, which affected beaches statewide in 2022, led to cancellation of the Burrillville Lions Club Learn to Swim program for the first time in its nearly 75 year history.
Councilor Jeremy Bailey noted that his daughter was among those certified to be a lifeguard and work at the Burrillville beach.
“I couldn’t believe the amount of work we had to go through,” Bailey said, noting the cost for certification came to around $500. “I’m definitely concerned with getting lifeguards going forward.”
Councilor Raymond Trinque noted that his son, who lives in Kentucky, became a lifeguard trainer there to circumvent the shortage at a pool he runs in that state. But Lopez noted that Rhode Island requires certification through the Department of Environmental Management. State officials have also advised that the beach can open without a lifeguard, but can’t charge an entrance fee without the required staff.
As a result of the challenges, Spring Lake reportedly fell short of their break-even goal in 2022 by $1,392.
But it is not an isolated year for beach deficits. McCormick showed that Spring Lake has operated at a loss since 2019, and now has a negative balance of $4,391.
“We’ve had a couple of weird years,” Wood said, noting COVID-19 also led to closures and downed attendance in recent summers.
Regardless of the reasons, beach officials recommended a plan this week to get finances on track.
“Shutdowns due to bad weather, high bacteria count or lack of staff will always affect the bottom line,” noted the report.
In addition to the $1 increase for single daily admission, group prices and season passes are also expected to rise in 2023.
The beach will also see continuation of ongoing improvements this year, thanks to $100,000 allocated by the council in 2022. The funds will be used this year to refurbish and replace stalls in the restrooms, remove and replace 100 feet of paved walkway, replace skylights and redo wood decking at the entrance to the arcade, among other improvements.
Beach officials also requested $3,000 for to replace iPads, as issues with old devices led to some loss of revenue over the summer.
Wood noted that even with the fee increase, the beach is still an affordable amenity for town residents and others who visit.
“We still have a nice operation down there,” Wood said. “The community likes it.”
Councilors unanimously approved all of the beach-related requests.
“I think we all agree how important Spring Lake is,” said council President Donald Fox. “It’s good to see you coming in presenting options.”