At least two homeowners have filed notices of claim against the Southampton Town Trustees for damages to their properties as a result of what they said was mismanagement of the Mecox cut.
The nearly identical notices of claim—precursors to actual lawsuits—were filed by Southampton Village-based attorney Nica Strunk on behalf of Peter Mensch, the owner of 1131 Flying Point Road, and Marsia Holzer, the owner of 1177 Flying Point Road. Both properties are located just west of the Mecox cut along the ocean-facing beach in Water Mill.
Multiple times per year, the Trustees use heavy equipment to dig a trench across a narrow stretch of sand to connect Mecox Bay and the ocean. Opening the cut allows ocean water to flow in and out, flushing the bay and increasing its salinity, but also lowering the water level of the bay.
When the cut is closed—either naturally, or by the Trustees using heavy machinery—it can sometimes result in flooded basements following heavy rainfalls in homes along the bay. When that happens, the residents of those homes want the cut opened to allow the water level to drop. But others prefer the cut to be actively closed to avoid erosion of the ocean beach in front of their properties.
Mr. Mensch and Ms. Holzer both claim the Trustees mismanaged the cut in March 2018, when four nor’easter storms battered the coastline with strong winds and heavy surf.
During those storms, the cut was left open longer than 15 days, according to the claims, causing more than $1 million worth of damage to their properties. The damage came in the form of erosion and the stripping away of sand dunes, which interferes with their “peaceful use and enjoyment” of their properties.
The documents both claim that the Trustees, who must obtain permits and approvals from the State Department of Environmental Conservation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to open the cut, failed to get approval from the Army Corps during the winter of 2017-18.
The homeowners also claim that the Trustees allowed the cut to remain open for longer than 15 days, a limit set by the DEC permit, which also stipulates that the cut must be closed if it meanders more than 150 feet from its center. They say the Trustees also failed to maintain a washover berm, as recommended by a draft Mecox Management Plan from 2014.
The homeowners also claim the Trustees are still selling the sand they dig up to form the cut—something the Trustees say they haven’t done for the past two years.
“Leaving the Mecox Inlet open for periods in excess of 15 days tends to result in increased revenue to the Town Trustees because it causes the buildup of extra sand in Mecox Bay, which the Town Trustees then sell,” the claims read, suggesting it is a conflict of interest when it comes to deciding whether to open the cut or not. “The Mecox Inlet, when not properly managed in accordance with scientific recommendations and regulatory permitting requirements, unreasonably interferes with claimant’s peaceful use and enjoyment of [their] real [properties], creating a private nuisance.”
Calls to Ms. Strunk were not immediately returned.
The Trustees are charged with balancing the concerns of everyone who enjoys the bay, while also addressing the salinity of the bay.
Managing the cut is an important task, but nothing has ever been added to the Trustees’ book of rules—known as the “Blue Book”—to outline what they can and cannot do when it comes to opening and closing the cut. Instead, it continues to be opened and closed on a case-by-case basis.
Town Trustee Scott Horowitz said on Tuesday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DEC, Army Corps, Stony Brook University and many other groups have come together to put such a plan in place. He added that if all goes as planned, a public hearing on the management of Mecox will take place before the end of summer.
Mr. Horowitz declined to comment on the lawsuits specifically, other than to say the Trustees were working as quickly as possible to put a Mecox management plan in place. The plan would provide a set of guidelines dictating when the cut would be opened and closed manually. Such guidelines would include salinity levels, blue-green algae blooms, the presence of the protected endangered species piping plovers, and water levels.
“We are doing everything we can to take care of all of the residents in that area, along with the environment,” Mr. Horowitz said. “We’re waiting on a few additional tweaks, and then we can all stand shoulder to shoulder for a public hearing.”
Calls to Town Trustee President Ed Warner and the Trustees’ attorney, Martha Reichert, were not immediately returned.
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