Digging In On War for the Shore

This is a fight worth having, and the trustees have the correct view, the one most consistent with the public interest

   The lines appear to be becoming clear with the East Hampton Town Trustees standing for access to the beach and Town Hall and some village officials standing with private property owners in the battle for the shoreline. This is a fight worth having, and the trustees have the correct view, the one most consistent with the public interest.

    Two recent decisions underscore this. One is a state judge’s refusal to dismiss a suit brought by the trustees challenging a town zoning board decision to allow a pair of Lazy Point, Amagansett, homeowners to build a seawall. The trustees argued that their permitting authority was circumvented when the Z.B.A. gave the okay. In denying the Z.B.A.’s lawyer’s request to dismiss the suit, Suffolk Supreme Court Justice William B. Rebolini said the trustees had standing to seek to overturn the decision. The case will now go on, with the court taking on the question itself of whether the trustees were improperly shut out of the approval process. We believe they were on this and other matters.

    A similar issue may have arisen last week when the East Hampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals hastily okayed the installation of a stone revetment at a disputed property on Georgica Beach. In this case, the trustees may have had less specific authority, but their clerk, Diane McNally, appeared at a hearing this month to plead that the village Z.B.A. take adequate account of the public’s right of passage along the beach and seek the views of competing experts.

    As in the Lazy Point decision, the village officials were sympathetic to the property owners. The wrinkle is, however, that at Georgica the revetment is for a house that is far from threatened, sited as it is a considerable distance back from the dune. The net effect of the zoning board’s shortsighted ruling is that adjacent property owners are likely to seek their own revetments before long, with the resultant loss of the beach like that seen to the east of the Georgica parking lot, at least in winter.

    You might ask why this matters. Well, a good reason is that with routine winter narrowing no one may be able to pass along that section of beach, something that clearly is not in the community’s best interest and something protected by cases the trustees have pursued back to the 18th century.

    Already, miles of bay beaches have been lost to bulkheads in Amagansett and Springs and in the Soundview Drive area of Montauk. A towering seawall along the ocean has utterly blocked those who would walk east of the dirt lot parking area at Montauk’s popular Ditch Plain beach. What will be next? Is this an acceptable result of protecting private land? The East Hampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals should have considered that question.

    If no one else is willing to stand up for the beaches on behalf of all East Hampton residents, thank goodness for the East Hampton Town Trustees. May they carry on the battle for as long as it takes.