Residents want to know what town officials are doing to preserve their beach access rights.
“The largest jewel in the crown of East Hampton may be stolen from us citizens of East Hampton," said Amagansett Resident Betty Mazur at the East Hampton Town Board meeting on Thursday night.
Mazur, an East Hampton Democratic Committee vice president, told the board: "I am very nervous because I am not sure we are going to be able to stop the robbers or the thieves. I am talking about the landowners in Napeague who are looking to take control of that four mile stretch of beach.”
In September 2009, landowners filed a suit in State Supreme court against the Town of East Hampton and the claiming they own the beaches in front of their homes. Specifically, the suit refers to the land from Napeague Lane on the west and up to approximately 600-feet before . It is about a 4,000-foot long stretch of land where cars are allowed to drive along the waters edge.
Kenneth Silverman, a plaintiff in the case and the president of the Dunes at Napeague Property Owners Association, owns property close to Napeague Lane. He explained that the landowners are suing the town and trustees based on the 1882 deed that sold the beach to Arthur Benson, after a string of lawsuits the town faced prior to the sale.
According to him and a group of plantiffs being represented by Riverhead Attorney Steven Angel, that would mean the land is not owned by the trustees at all.
Most recently, the plantiffs tried to speed up a decision with a partial summary judgement on three actions of the case: ownership of the beach, rights associated with that ownership and an injunction to enforce those rights. The town and trustees requested an adjournment. The case is back in court on April 15.
Before the town board, Mazur said she felt that the board has not put any effort into the issue. “I have not heard any sign of anxiety or excitement or leadership from this board on this issue.”
Gene Frankel, president of the democratic committee, brought up similar concerns: “The important thing is to not lose the ownership and not lose rights to the access of the beach.” If the town loses ownership of the beach, “The only thing the public can do it walk along the edge of the water.”
“What I don’t understand is why this board has not been a voice," she said.
Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, a member of the Republican-majority town board and also a lawyer, said, “As a party to the lawsuit we are involved. We are in litigation and that is why we are not discussing.”
Quigley took exception with Mazur's choice of words with regard to theivery because, she said, it was in reference to fellow community members. Silverman called her statement slanderous.
East Hampton Republican Party Chairwoman Trace Duryea said she didn't want this issue to become a political one. “I would like to witness an attitude change in this town. I do not like the attacks. I don’t like the political accusations. There is not always a right side. There is room for compromise here," she said.
But Frankl said, “I think that you hold the whole idea of a litigation being secret too close to the chest.” She said that the board is exaggerating its right to be silent. “If you cannot discuss it nobody can believe you are doing anything.”
"We are fighting it 100 percent,” Quigley assured her.
And, Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson told the audience, "I don’t think you’ll find any lack of support," from the board.
Speaking of himself, he said, "I don’t think that there is anyone who is more supportive, more concerned, more passionate about three things, as an indigenous Montauk Person: beach fires, fishing and beach driving.”
But, Wilkinson said, “There is a jurisdiction called the trustees, who have responsibility and accountability for those beaches. We respect their independence, we respect their accountabilities and if the trustees sought further coordination from the town we will respect their request for that.”
“Probably, if I went to each member of this board we would fight to the very end to retain our beaches,” he said, adding there had been a hiccup, “Apparently, apparently, I say, there have been some documents that have seen a sale of that right," referring to the 1882 deed.
At the meeting, Silverman said, "This lawsuit was not commenced with intention to deny access to pedestrians.”
Silverman also said that are about 200 trucks on the strip of land in question. He said that's about 400 to 600 trips a day, close to his house, he said.
“Legislation and regulations treated this beach different than all the other beaches in the town," he said. “The trustees have not even been willing to even sit down and discuss some good positive solutions for everyone in the town.”
"If you give someone no alternative, that is why you end up where you are," he said.