Paddle Out to Save Ditch Plain

Janis Hewitt

Tykes on boogie boards and seasoned surfers on short and long boards — about 100 strong — paddled out on the west side of the jetty at Ditch Plain Beach in Montauk on Saturday in peaceful protest of plans to redevelop the defunct East Deck Motel there as a private club.

A paddle out has become a way for the surfing community to memorialize someone who has died, but this time, surfers were mourning what might be the loss of a favorite surfing spot to the proposed club.

"Montauk’s never been exclusive to anyone. It will be very sad if all of a sudden we’re not allowed on that beach,” Jay Fruin, a Montauk resident and member of the Surfrider Foundation, said, expressing widespread concern that the club would crowd out the public from the beach in front of it.

"Today we’re mourning the possible loss of our beach,” said Tony Caramanico, a longtime surfer who lives in Montauk. Speaking through a bullhorn, Claire Pertalion asked the protesters to observe a moment of silence and think about how much that particular stretch of beach means to them.

Banners were hung from beach fencing with pictures of J. Darius Bikoff, named by The New York Times as a principal owner of ED40, the corporation that bought the East Deck and filed an application with East Hampton Town for the approvals necessary to develop a private club for up to 179 members and their guests. Another banner read “Not a 1-percent beach, a 100-percent beach.”

The plan calls for extensive renovations of the building, adding a second floor and a restaurant, spa, game room, Olympic-size pool, and below-grade parking, among other amenities. Estimating the number of people who might be at the club on a given day, plans call for a septic system that could accommodate the waste of up to 537 daily, with 3,661 cubic yards of fill brought in to elevate the system.

Other groups in Montauk have also protested the plans, with the Concerned Citizens of Montauk urging town officials to require a full environmental impact statement on the application. The Ditch Plains Association has posted an online petition, which collected over 2,000 signatures within a week. It can be found at ditchplainsassociation.com.

The East Hampton Town Planning Board expects to discuss ED40's application at its Sept. 17 meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall. The board had originally aimed to discuss the application on Sept. 10, but the Planning Department's memo on the controversial plan, which has created a firestorm of opposition in Montauk, could not be prepared in time. A board member had asked the department to complete its memo at least seven days before the meeting. Eric Schantz, a town planner, said Friday that he does not expect to have the document ready until Sept. 10.

James Katsipis
An aerial shot taken by a drone shows the lineup in front of the former East Deck.Ed Patrowicz
James Katsipis
James Katsipis
Ed Patrowicz