An understanding may have been reached between residents upset that their beach access rights are in jeopardy and elected officials: No one wants to lose the beaches to privatization.
About 100 people, some holding signs, crowded the at an East Hampton Town Board meeting on Thursday night to ensure everything is being done to protect their rights to access the beaches. Most in attendance are members of Citizens for Access Rights, a newly formed group of East Hampton residents who want to raise money to help fight the lawsuit brought against the Town of East Hampton and the town trustees over Napeague Beach.
"We are asking the and the to protect generations of tradition and to protect the public’s right to access and enjoy the beaches of East Hampton the way they have been used and enjoyed for generations," said Tim Taylor on behalf of CfAR.
In 2009, the White Sands Motel Holding Company, the Seaview at Amagansett residential association, and other individuals, filed suits that claim ownership of 4,000 feet of ocean beach up to the high-water mark.
Taylor offered a written resolution for the board to pass in support of beach access preservation. Councilwoman Julia Prince said she would be in favor of adopting it, but that it would take some time.
Fallon Bloecker, a high school senior from Montauk and daughter of Trustee Joe Bloecker, told the board she and her friends love driving on the beach now that they are of age.
"Please do everything in your power by working with my dad and the rest of the town trustees to keep these beaches open and accessible to all of us. We waited so long to be able to drive legally on the beaches . . . please don't let a few mean people spoil the rest of the summers," she said.
Supervisor Bill Wilkinson . "There is no question of our support for the trustees," he said. "There is no question of support for our beaches to remain the way they are. There isn't a weekend that goes by that I'm not driving on the beaches. I believe in driving, I believe in dogs on the beaches because my dog is in the Jeep when I'm driving on those beaches. I believe in fires on those beaches, I believe in fishing on those beaches."
While the citizens group and others have taken exception to the fact that the trustees and the town board have not been vocal about how they are fighting suit, the elected officials have maintained it's because they can't talk about their legal defense.
Diane McNally, the trustee clerk, also spoke at the town board meeting. "The trustee board and the town board have done everything we can to this point with regard to this suit. We will not compromise public access to the beaches and at this point all we can do is await the decision of the courts."
The town had until Wednesday to respond to the plaintiff's motion.
Steven Tekulsky, an attorney and resident for over 20 years, spoke as the director of the East Hampton Sportsman Association, a not-for-profit organization that promotes hunting and fishing. He said he was glad the supervisor's support was clear, but that he also wanted the board to consider condemnation if need be.
At the heart of the lawsuit is whether the town trustees still own that stretch of beach or whether they were deeded away over 150 years ago to developer Arthur Benson.
Condemnation of the beach, like the state did to preserve Napeague State Park, shouldn't be dismissed as cost prohibitive, Tekulsky said.
"Similarly, there's a Community Preservation Fund and what is a more valuable asset for preservation, if negotiations were appropriate, than our beaches," Tekulsky said to a round of applause from the crowd.
Councilwoman Prince reminded the crowd that the town purchase of any property requires a willing seller.
"I hate to steal from commercials," he continued. "There will be a cost of this litigation and if the litigation is not successful to the extent that we want there may be costs involved in pursuing other options such as condemnation, but keeping East End public beaches public -- priceless."
Jay Blatt, who was representing the and the 5,000 members of the New York Coalition of Recreational Fisherman, reminded the board that beach drivers are not the only ones whose rights are at stake; beach walkers, swimmers, sunbathers, vacationers are also targeted. It's a "total access issue," he said.
"This being an election year, the public looks forward to your inspired leadership and will show its gratitude at the ballot box," Blatt told the board.
Both Blatt and Taylor said there are other motivations for the lawsuit, adding that there had never been a serious injury to pedestrian from a beach driver on Napeague.
"Many believe that the vehicle issue is a scapegoat intended to distract the public from the plaintiff's true agenda," Blatt said, "which has been to privatize our beaches, to weaken the authority of our trustees, to set a legal precedent that could lead to more beach privatizing, and capitalize on an opportunity to dramatically increase property values at our expense."
But, none of this surprises Stuart Vorphal of Amagansett. "At least fifty years ago, Captain Ted Nester told me that when the real estate people and their lawyers are trying to sell a piece of ocean front property, they will convince the buyer they will also own a slot of land all the way to Portugal."
One member of the audience asked, "Now that we all seem to be on the same page, what can we do to help?"
"United speak is far more effective than divided speak," Wilkinson said. "This is the biggest room we have had just as far as attention to an issue. I think that will transition through."