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Watkins changes shore access for boaters

WATKINS GLEN—The village will ban boats within 1,000 feet of the shore at Clute Park during next year’s Italian Festival because of problems caused this year by drunken revelers.
“There was a naked man in the water, women were flashing us and people reported numerous fights,” Police Chief Thomas Struble told the village board Tuesday (Sept. 8). “We would have made numerous more arrests, but we couldn’t get to them.”
The 30th annual Italian Festival was held July 31 and Aug. 1-2. Boats were allowed within 500 feet of the shore, where the water is shallow enough to wade into the park.
Struble said some of the boaters brought alcohol into the park, which is prohibited by festival rules.
“Boaters were coming into the festival with alcohol non-stop,” he said.
About 100 boats were in the flotilla, with people in the water between them, Struble said.
“There were obscene gestures, fight calls and domestics,” he said.
The Schuyler County Sheriff’s Department had one boat in the water and police were able to commandeer another, but the boaters were hostile to police and refused to help point out violators.
“The major complaint was the amount of alcohol being consumed and what that was causing people to do,” Struble said.
Moving the boats out to a minimum of 1,000 feet from shore, where the water is about 35 feet deep, will prevent people from wading into the park.
“Out at 1,000 feet you won’t have the kids seeing the naked men,” Struble said.
The police chief said he does not blame organizers of the Italian Festival—which had alcohol-related problems in the past—for the problems on the water.
“The festival is under control,” he sad. “Now our main issue is the boaters.”
Trustee Bill Smagner said the incidents violated an agreement under which the boat owners would police themselves.
“It worked the first year but not this year,” Smagner said.
The 1,000-foot ban on boats will take effect the week before the 2010 festival and be enforced for a week after the festival ends.
“Our whole goal is not to promote the village of Watkins as a drunkfest,”  said Mayor Judy Phillips.
Struble said he understands that boaters want to celebrate during the festival.
“I don’t blame anybody for having a good time, but let’s be responsible about it,” he said.
In other action, the board:
• Approved a contract with Andy Barth of Free Roaming Studios to prepare Web sites for all village departments at a cost of $4,500.
• Refused to waive a $150 fee charged the local Teen Center for use of the community center at Clute Park for a dinner and fundraiser.
• Scheduled its next meeting for 7 p.m. Oct. 5.

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