The political controversy about public access to oceanfront beaches on Napeague seems to have lost some of its heat in the last week.
At a work session on Tuesday, the East Hampton Town Board, responding to unrelenting criticism from Citizens for Access Rights, passed a sense-of-the-board resolution supporting the town trustees’ defense of a lawsuit that claims oceanfront property owners rather than the trustees own a 4,000-foot stretch of Napeague beach. And, on a closely related lawsuit, a State Supreme Court judge denied a request for summary judgment last Thursday on a claim that another part of the beach on Napeague, about a half mile away, is owned by the White Sands Motel Holding Corporation.
For over a year, members of CfAR had called on the town board to support the trustees. The board had demurred until Tuesday’s meeting, insisting that its intention to fight for public access to the beach was solid but expressing concern about the wording of a resolution CfAR had proposed.
The East Hampton Town Trustees received notice yesterday that they had cleared a hurdle in the White Sands lawsuit when State Supreme Court Justice Melvyn Tanenbaum denied the request for summary judgment.
Justice Tanenbaum wrote that the plainfiff failed to prove its allegation that the people of East Hampton lost their right to use the beach in front of the motel when the trustees sold sections of Napeague in the 1880s. A conference to determine the issues that will go to trial has been scheduled for Nov. 28 at the Supreme Court building in Central Islip.
The question of ownership of the larger stretch of beach was brought before the State Supreme Court in 2009. Oceanfront residents sued the town trustees as well as the town board, arguing that the public had no right to drive along the beach there and calling the popular pursuit dangerous and disruptive.
On Tuesday, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, who had in the past urged fellow board members to think carefully about the possible precedent-setting implications of the resolution suggested by CfAR, said, “We have been firmly behind the defense of this. The issue has never been anything but language.”
Ms. Quigley added that the town had been discussing the possibility of using eminent domain with a condemnation attorney for over a year. “If appropriate, we will indeed use any powers of eminent domain we need to,” she said.
In wording that had been vetted by John Jilnicki, the town attorney, the resolution approved on Tuesday states that the board “pledges its full support to aggressive defense of present pending lawsuits against the town and trustees; and of future claims . . . to wrest ownership, access, or control of the beaches from the public, including defense of the traditional rights of all user groups . . . including, without limitation, pedestrians, quadrupeds, vehicles, and fishermen.”