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Apr 25, 2011 10:10 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Beachgoers Must Now 'Await The Decision Of The Courts'

Apr 26, 2011 4:06 PM

About 100 people crowded into East Hampton Town Hall on Thursday evening to show support for the town in its legal fight to retain public ownership of a disputed beach in Napeague—a fight that officials say is now in the hands of a judge.

“The Trustee Board and the Town Board have done everything we can to this point … with regard to this suit,” Clerk of the Town Trustees Diane McNally said during a statement at the podium. “We will not compromise on the public’s access to the beaches, and at this point all we can do is await the decision of the courts.”

Attendees lined the sides of the Town Board meeting room, some spilling out into the building’s lobby. A few held signs saying “Keep East End Beaches Public” and loud rounds of applause followed many speakers who made statements at the podium.

Town Board members reiterated their support for the public’s right to drive and park vehicles on the beach, a favorite summer spot for locals, and pledged to aid the Town Trustees, the lead defendants in the case. “There isn’t a weekend that goes by that I’m not driving on the beaches, so I believe in driving,” Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said.

A group of property owners who live along the 4,000-foot stretch of beach filed a pair of lawsuits in 2009 claiming the Trustees sold the land into private ownership in 1882. The plaintiffs requested a summary judgment last month, and attorneys for the Town Board and Town Trustees filed their responses in State Supreme Court the day before the Town Board meeting.

Stuart Vorpahl of Amagansett called what he said a friend named Captain Ted Lester told him more than 50 years ago: “When the real estate people and their lawyers are trying to sell a piece of oceanfront property, they will convince the buyer that they will also own a slot of land all the way to Portugal.”

Mr. Vorpahl, a fisherman, said reservations on Trustee deeds preserve hunting, fishing and other public access rights even after public beaches are sold.

Many of the meeting’s attendees were members of a group of beach advocates, Citizens for Access Rights, which formed to resist the lawsuit. One of the group’s founders, an East Hampton land surveyor named Tim Taylor, alleged that complaints about excessive vehicle traffic on and around the 
beach was not the real impetus for the property owners’ lawsuit.

“CfAR believes beach driving is not the problem,” Mr. Taylor told the Town Board. “We believe it’s an excuse. We believe the fact that the public is on the beach is the real problem and that what the plaintiffs in this case really want is a private beach.”

At the same time, Mr. Taylor said his group welcomes stricter enforcement of existing beach regulations on the Napeague beach and other beaches. He expressed concerns about the implications of a defeat.

“We believe that other beachfront homeowners would like to have the beaches private and that they are watching this lawsuit and the defense of this lawsuit very closely,” he said. “Our group believes that if the Town Board and the Town Trustees fail to mount an all-out defense against the lawsuit in Napeague then a dangerous precedent would be set and the public could lose the right to access or use other, if not all, beaches in East Hampton.”

More than one speaker at the meeting urged the Town Board to consider all options, including condemnation of the beach under eminent domain, in case it lost the fight in court.

“There will be a cost of this litigation, and if litigation is not successful to the extent that we want there may be costs involved in pursuing other options, such as condemnation,” said Steven Tekulsky, an attorney who serves as one of the directors of the East Hampton Sportsmen’s Alliance, “But keeping East End public beaches public? Priceless.”

Mr. Tekulsky also suggested the Town Board look into the possibility of buying the beach using its Community Preservation Fund. Councilwoman Julia Prince noted the fund can only be used to purchase land from a willing seller, and Mr. Tekulsky clarified that a deal could be a result of negotiations with the property owners.

“Ultimately, it’s possible that free access to the beach will rest in this board’s hands,” Councilman Dominick Stanzione told attendees later. “If the Trustees lose, we lose all the court cases, it will come down to us. And I will tell you now, we have 
taken no actions off the table. None.”

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Hopefully the Southampton Town Board is paying attention and will also fight to keep its beaches public and open up those that have been sequestered by villages and hamlets and private communities. Beaches for all the people not the privileged few. Get rid of those no parking signs. The privileged should not benefit from municipal signs and enforcement. Free the streets for all the people. I believe the Trustees have an obligation to do this too. Out waterfronts are our primary natural resources ...more
By V.Tomanoku (788), southampton on Apr 28, 11 6:43 PM
for more information how you can help CfAR please go to www.citizensforaccessrights.com or follow them on face book. they are taking this fight to the people. the power will be in the number that support the cause to protect public access to puclic lands.
By tito (56), e hampton on Apr 28, 11 8:20 PM
WHERE ARE YOU TWO COMING FROM WITH THESE MEANINGLESS POSTS? Tito - the power is, and always will be, with those who can fight in a lawsuit - either privately or publicly funded . . . if either of you are really watching what is going on in EH you would realize that the current decision by the Court is one only concerning summary judgment . . . which won't be granted. The real fight will go on for years and years depending on if and who appeals which portion of the Court decisions . . the EH ...more
By Board Watcher (533), East Hampton on Apr 29, 11 11:22 PM
Board - That may be true, but pulling everyone who feels strongly over this together on a united front certainly doesn't hurt. Think about it.. if there was no public outcry at all, with the financial problems we're experiencing, the town may of swept this issue under the rug and let the litigants win. The Town Board and Trustees are the ones who have to fight it, but they need the vocalization and support of their constituents in order to do so, or else they may not really fight it at all.
By YesYesBub (58), East Hampton on May 1, 11 6:58 PM
cfar's has already stated that they are going to donate funds that are raised through their memberships and fundraisers to the trustees for the stewardships of the beaches. this was said at the april 21st town board meeting if you were watching?? just as SABA in southampton realizes, cfar has stated that lawsuit will take time and the suits WILL keep coming. they have kept this issue from being swept under the rug. and cfar has also brought the numbers in supportors to the board meeting to make ...more
By tito (56), e hampton on May 1, 11 9:22 PM
tito - I was watching - and i thought it was a good meeting. I am not minimizing what cfar is doing at all . . . I am curious, however, what you think "recent history" is - because by far one of the largest turn outs at an EH Board Meeting was when the community IN DROVES came to speak about - and AGAINST - the adoption of the Coastal Erosion Overlay District legislation. This was back when all but one Board meeting was/were held during the day, and you couldn't get an agenda to look at the ...more
By Board Watcher (533), East Hampton on May 2, 11 10:48 AM
Yes yes - I don't know anyone who isn't committed to this fight - and am truly baffled about where your comment that the Town may have swept this under the rug and "LET THE LITIGANTS WIN" is coming from .... other than listening to the attempts of the "Dems against Them" Frankle and Mazur to politicize this at a Board meeting. The Board answered as named Defendants in this suit and as far as I can see are as united as you could possibly get, have said they stand behind the Trustees (who have jurisdiction ...more
By Board Watcher (533), East Hampton on May 2, 11 10:33 AM
Boardwatcher....... the town BOARD knew about the details of this case since September 2009....yet the public was not informed about this, nor was there a public statement made by this board until just a month or so ago. This issue was headed for underneath the rug....until organizations like Montauk surfcasters and Cfar had the courage to to VOCALLY bring this issue under the limelight. But what should we expect when one of the major litigants contributed 25% of the local REPUBLICAN party's campaign ...more
By surf protector (12), East Hampton on May 2, 11 9:20 PM
surf protector you re so right. Keep the fighting up and keep getting publicity. The majority of people support you on this.
By housewife (79), east hampton on May 2, 11 10:47 PM
I suppose when you only have half your facts, surf protector, it's easier to resort to name calling than to actaully read an article which says "IT'S IN THE HANDS OF THE COURTS" . . . party propoganda? It doesn't take much COURAGE to say "we want access to our beaches and to continue driving on them", I say that all the time - although I MUST SAY AGAIN I am impressed with Cfars organizational efforts! The Trustees espouse and act on this premise every day and I have heard the entire Board say ...more
By Board Watcher (533), East Hampton on May 3, 11 6:40 PM
Not true boardwatcher. At the first Cfar meeting, members of the town board showed up unannounced and did not say anything like what they are saying now (support beach driving, trustees, etc). Not until this organization showed how serious it was did the board start saying "we will support". From the tone and words they spoke at the first Cfar meeting, there was no other conclusion to come to except that this thing was headed "under the rug". If they meant to support this cause from the outset, ...more
By YEAROUNDER (81), East Hampton on May 4, 11 12:16 PM
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