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Mar 8, 2016 11:43 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Town Trustees, Not Villages, Must Control Beach Access In Southampton

Alan Czelatka caught this shortbill spearfish this week while fishing with several other Southamptonites in Kona, Hawaii. Carol Williams
Mar 8, 2016 11:43 AM

The war over the Southampton Town Trustees’ authority on the ocean beaches of the town is one that needs to be addressed once and for all, cementing what we have all accepted as the status quo for decades into state law.Plain and simple, the Trustees must be formalized as the final authority dictating access along the ocean beaches in the entirety of Southampton Town between the east jetty of Moriches Inlet and the double-yellow line of Town Line Road. They must be wholly independent of the Town Board and its potential for political meddling, which means they will ultimately have to be their own taxing authority. I would even like to see political parties entirely excluded from Trustees elections somehow—perhaps by putting the Trustees on their own election cycle, like school boards. (Psst: School boards control about a hundred times more of your tax money than the Trustees do.)

This must be the case, because conceding to each incorporated village having its own control over beach access will inevitably lead to a segmented beach, where only residents of a given village will be allowed on that village’s beaches. That condition, far too common along the coastlines of the United States, must not be allowed to develop on the South Fork.

The legal brouhaha that has enveloped the Trustees the last 10 years or so has shed light on a peculiarity of the South Fork and the people who live here; it speaks volumes about what they value and how those values are being painted over by a new breed of transplants.

Here was a government agency that had been wielding authority that a court, many years ago, said it simply didn’t have. And yet, the people of the region, by never questioning it, effectively decided that they wanted this agency to have this power—that they wanted these elected men telling them how things should be done.

And, for the most part, those men got it right. Lord knows, in a property rights-obsessed town like Southampton, the Trustees were not much of a hindrance to anyone who wanted to develop a property or put in a dock, as Southampton’s porcupine shoreline attests. They got into tiffs and legal fights here and there, but mostly they stood for what the people wanted them to stand for: open access to our beaches (yes, only for town residents, and that’s a restraint that should be loosened, out of respect for our neighbors and fear of hypocrisy), reasonable limits and controls on shellfishing in town waters, and knowledgeable and experienced guidance for development along the shoreline.

The recent Trustees may have dug in their heels a little too much on the issue that led directly to the current mess, which was purely a land grab by greedy newcomers but could have been settled long ago at a fairly minor cost.

If Fred Thiele and Ken LaValle are successful at getting the state to codify what we’ve all assumed the Trustees to be for our whole lives, there will need to be some more figuring and compromising to make it last.

Shore-hardening has to be figured out. Is it good, is it bad, and to what extent should we allow it? If we could turn back the clock and never build on the barrier islands and oceanfront, leaving them as virgin dunelands, like they did on Cape Cod, that would be great. But we can’t. So we need to figure out if there’s an argument to be made that, when done right, these walls provide protection and will not lead to the beach being completely erased, as it has along other stretches of the Atlantic coastline where prevailing winds don’t carry billions of tons of sand ashore naturally (Long Island being the only south-facing shoreline on the East Coast).

And the conflict over areas like the Picnic Area and Truck Beach will have to be addressed, someplace other than in a courtroom. It’s easy to say “we were here first” and tell adjacent homeowners to buzz off. And to an extent, it’s true. But the conditions at those places have changed a lot from 15 or 20 years ago, before every family had two or three four-wheel-drive vehicles. Frankly, it’s time to create one or two other places (in both towns) where people can drive their trucks on the beach, and put some reasonable limits on how many vehicles can be at a given location.

These will be hard conversations to have, with difficult compromises to be made, but we have to bite into that apple, because without a solid and strong Trustees authority in Southampton, the whole South Fork will start a descent into something we really don’t want it to be.

There are three kinds of people who live out here. There are locals—the ones whose ancestors made this place what it is. There are the transplants who settle here, embrace what it is and form their lives to fit into it. And then there are the transplants who come here because of what it is but soon set out to change it to be more like where they came from.

Take a drive through Lazy Point someday, then go look at Dune Road in Bridgehampton, or the bay side of Meadow Lane or West Hampton Dunes, in comparison, and you will see the difference in how people respect what they find when they arrive. The Trustees are protection from that sort of attitude spreading to more than our streetscapes.

Catch ’em up. See you out there.

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Is this journalism or a commentary?

By Summer Resident (250), Southampton N.Y. on Mar 15, 16 7:05 PM
This is a weekly column, commentary sometimes, that I write for this sports section, independent from my position as a news reporter for our main section. It is typically focused on fishing or waterfowl int in our region but on occasion, such as this, offers my personal view of various states of affairs local outdoorsmen encounter in their daily movements.
Thanks for reading.
By Michael Wright (25), Southampton on Apr 20, 16 9:57 PM
Mike tends to get the issues only partially right. The truth is that on FAMILY BEACH,which he likes to call "truck beach," the sand is only crowed on eight Sundays and three holidays during the season. Also he's wrong thinking that there are crowds of truck users ----the beaches throughout E.H. are almost totally void of truck traffic 90% of the season. Probably the same facts apply in S.H. ...more
By Rocky (11), East Hampton on Mar 25, 16 9:27 AM
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