A lawsuit filed by residents of the Soundview community of Montauk in January was amended last week to include information that purports to show that the Town of East Hampton bears a greater share of the blame than originally thought for the erosion that threatens over a dozen houses located west of the jetties.
The original suit names the town, county, Joe Martens, acting commissioiner of the State Department of Environmental Conservation, and Ruth Noemi Colon, acting commissioner of the State Department of State, as being responsible for extending the Montauk Harbor jetties, and in so doing causing serious erosion to the west of them.
Although the town was named in the original suit as the owner of the land on which the jetties sit, Jonathan Sinnreich, hired by the homeowners after a series of storms broke bulkheads, erased land, and undercut foundations, said on Tuesday that further research revealed the town played a far greater role in the jetties’ construction than the other entities. And, he said it also revealed a broken promise to maintain the jetties and correct damage caused by them.
“What changed is this: When I first brought the lawsuit I knew the town owned the jetties technically, but I bought into the party line that they were really federal jetties, that the federal government was the main culprit. We intended to sue the federal government,” Mr. Sinnreich said.
But after digging into town records, he said, he discovered that in 1936 the town applied to the federal government to restore Montauk Harbor’s original jetties, which had fallen into disrepair. “The town applied to the fed to repair and enlarge the jetties because they wanted to build up the commercial fishing industry. It was not the Army Corps’ idea,” Mr. Sinnreich said.
Originally, the Army Corps of Engineers said no, but Town Supervisor Perry B. Duryea Sr. went to Washington, D.C., and lobbied. “Finally they gave in. They agreed but only with a bunch of conditions,” Mr. Sinnreich said. “First, the town had to acquire ownership. The jetties were privately owned. Then, they had to convey an easement to the federal government, but the town has kept ownership to this day.”
According to the Soundview residents’ lawyer, the federal government also required the town to hold the government harmless should the construction and maintanence of the jetties cause any damage. The town agreed to that as well, he said. The town board authorized the supervisor to sign a written assurance.
“I’m not criticizing the town. East Hampton lobbied to help its fishermen, and took financial responsibility for it. I have no hostility. It’s not about that, but this was not a project conceived by the federal government and imposed on the town.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Sinnreich said residents intended to go after the federal, state, and county government, as well. The suit asks for $10 million to help repair and buttress their properties against future storms.
An emergency dredging of the Montauk Harbor Inlet in October is expected to produce sand to help rebuild beaches to the west of the jetties.
Reached yesterday, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said he would not comment on the amended suit until he had a chance to read it and consult with the town attorneys. In the past, Mr. Wilkinson has said he was disappointed in the Soundview residents’ litigious approach after his administration had worked hard to obtain the permits necessary for them to get erosion control structures in place.