Seven-Year Lawsuit By Montauk Homeowners Goes To Trial - 27 East

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Seven-Year Lawsuit By Montauk Homeowners Goes To Trial

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author on Jun 26, 2018

Several current and former East Hampton Town officials, including Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc and former Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, have been called to testify in the ongoing trial of a lawsuit filed by a group of Montauk homeowners against the town over erosion in front of their homes west of Culloden Point. The lawsuit was filed in two separate claims in 2011 and 2012—in the wake of batterings by Hurricane Irene and a strong nor’easter, but before Superstorm Sandy—by a group of a dozen homeowners who live along Soundview Drive and Captain Kidd’s Path. Erosion there has essentially erased the natural shoreline, much of which is now lined with steel bulkheads to protect homes from storms and collapsing bluffs.

The suit claims that the jetties, which were constructed by developer Carl Fisher in the 1920s and reconstructed by the Army Corps in 1939, have interrupted the natural flow of sand along the Block Island Sound shoreline west of the inlet, robbing their properties of sand replenishment and accelerating erosion of the bluffs they sit atop.

The homeowners are seeking some $25 million in damages for property loss and for the town to fund the replenishment of eroded sand along the shoreline between Culloden Point and the harbor inlet.

At various times the town has explored ways to address the erosion, including plans for pumping sand from the east side of the inlet to the west. At one point, Mr. Schneiderman recalled, he’d even proposed just trucking sand from one side to the other as a stop-gap.

When he took the stand at trial last week, the former East Hampton supervisor and current Southampton Town supervisor said, the plaintiffs’ attorneys queried him about that plan, which never came to fruition.

“They were trying to argue that by me showing some willingness to move sand from one side of the inlet to the other, that was the town accepting responsibility for the erosion,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “I wanted to truck a few thousand yards of sand because I thought it was the good neighbor thing to do. But we always looked at it as a federal inlet. They built the jetties and they maintain the jetties, not the town.”

The homeowners’ suit originally targeted the town, Suffolk County, the Environmental Protection Agency, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but the claims against the county, state and federal entities have all been dismissed, leaving only the town as a defendant in the current trial.

Attorneys for the town—which is being represented in the case by a Carle Place firm, Sokoloff Stern LLP—have argued that it should not be held liable for any damages caused by the jetties because the jetties are maintained by the Army Corps for the purpose of protecting the economic viability of Montauk Harbor, even though the harbor itself is owned by the town.

They have also argued that the jetties alone are not to blame for the erosion and pointed out that many of the homes in the region, including those owned by some of the defendants, have bulkheads in front of them that are known to exacerbate the erosion of the beach.

Just last year the East Hampton Town Board said it would ask the Army Corps to drop consideration of large-scale bolstering of the beaches along Soundview and the Culloden Shores subdivision because it deemed the options the Army Corps had offered untenable.

The Corps had recommended constructing three new jetties, or groins, along the shoreline between the inlet and Culloden Point and dumping several hundred thousand tons of sand that is due to be dredged out of the inlet channel next year along the shoreline to restore the beach. But the Town Board noted that constructing the groins would violate the town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, which prohibits shore-perpendicular structures like groins.

The Soundview lawsuit mirrors two other lawsuits filed in recent decades by East End homeowners. One in the village of West Hampton Dunes led to the Army Corps and Suffolk County being forced to dedicate tens of millions of dollars to a massive reconstruction and regular beach replenishment of the two-mile section of barrier island that constitutes the village. The other, filed by Sagaponack and Bridgehampton homeowners, also against the county and Army Corps, blamed the Georgica Beach groins for erosion that ate away large chunks of property. A judge in the Georgica case ruled that the groins could not be solely blamed for erosion damage along the shoreline.

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