MASSAPEQUA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Pay up, comrade.
A decades-long “good neighbor” policy that granted more than 100 free beach passes each summer to Russian diplomats and their families has come to an end in Oyster Bay.
Officials said if residents have to pay for access to the sand and sun, then so do the emissaries from Moscow.
One of two Long Island retreats for Russian diplomats working at the United Nations headquarters in New York City had been located in the town until December, when the Obama administration ordered it shut in response to alleged Russian hacking in the 2016 presidential election.
There have been reports that the ouster may be reversed under President Donald Trump, but local officials say their decision is based only on local concerns.
“Our decision has absolutely nothing to do with anything that is going on in the federal government,” insists Joseph Saladino, who was appointed Oyster Bay town supervisor earlier this year. The Republican is seeking election to a full term in November. “If our residents have to pay, they have to pay.”
Oyster Bay, a township of nearly 300,000 people east of New York City that was once home to former President Theodore Roosevelt, has four beaches on both the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound. Residents can pay a $20 daily fee for access to any of the beaches or buy a seasonal pass for $60. Fees for non-residents range between $50 and $60 a day, and some are open to non-residents only on summer weekdays.
Since the days of the former Soviet Union, the town has provided free beach passes to the diplomats, ostensibly because of their presence at a mansion in Upper Brookville called Elmcroft. The house originally had 27 rooms and 11 baths and was once the home of a former New York governor, Nathan Miller.
Satellite photography shows the grounds today include a tennis court, gardens, a soccer field and another large, modern building.
The Obama administration had claimed the Cold War-era estate, along with one in Maryland, were being used for intelligence activities.
The U.S. closed the sites in December and ordered 35 Russian officials to leave the country in retaliation for Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election. Their return has been atop Moscow’s wish list since Trump entered office.
When the town received a request this spring from the Russians for free passes, Saladino said he responded, “Nyet.”
“I took a very strong stand on this because of my tremendous respect for our residents,” Saladino told WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall. “They had asked for 160 vehicle passes and clearly there’s one house where they’re living so they can’t possibly have anywhere near that number. It’s a single family home, so when I heard the number it just sounded too abusive.”
“The residents of our town have to come first,” Saladino added.
He said he did offer to let them buy seasonal the passes at the residential rate of $60 each, but did not receive a response. A spokesman with the Russian mission to the United Nations did not address the town’s decision on the beach passes when reached for comment via email.
In 2014, a Russian mission spokesman, Alexey Zaytsev told Newsday “most of the Russian Mission to the UN staff enjoys the beaches.”
“In any beach facility we meet friendly and attentive people, so we are really thankful to the Oyster Bay authorities and residents for their hospitality.”
Saladino’s decision appears to be playing well with locals.
“We’re paying, why shouldn’t they?” said Susan Carfora as she arrived with a friend at Tobay Beach, the largest of the town beaches that sits on the Atlantic Ocean just east of the famed Jones Beach State Park. “I don’t believe in special privileges for anybody,” added Roseann Celauro.
Mike Davis said he didn’t have a problem with the town providing free passes in the past, but said he supports the town decision because of “the election hacking and stuff. I think they should pay.”
It’s still not clear whether the Russians will be permitted to return to the property in Upper Brookville. Officials in Washington recently said high-level negotiations are ongoing. Some elected officials oppose any return.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)