Montauk Landowners Win Suit Against EH Town

A jury seated in Central Islip, after ruling against the Town of East Hampton June 29, following an almost one-month trial, awarded seven home owners on Soundview Drive and Captain Kidd’s Path in Montauk various amounts of money for damages caused by the town-owned jetties. The jetties were built by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1920s to protect the entrance to Montauk Harbor.

The awards ranged from $122,319 for Francis and Lynn DeVito of 16 Captain Kidd’s Path, down to $875 awarded to Carol Land and Terry Bienstock of 140 Soundview Drive. One of the plaintiffs in the suit, Robin Racanelli, of 10 Captain Kidd’s Path, was awarded nothing. The total amount awarded by the jury was slightly under $356,000. The damages were limited to losses that have occurred for the home owners since October 27, 2009.

At the same time, the jury found the town not guilty of interfering with “the rights of the public to use and enjoy public land.”

After the initial construction of the jetties in the 1920s, according to court documents, they fell into disrepair, with Congress approving a bill in 1945 that directed the Army Corps of Engineers to periodically dredge to maintain the viability of the channel into Lake Montauk. The jetties interfere with the littoral drift of sand, scouring the beaches in front of the homes.

The suit was launched against the town in 2012. Originally, the suit charged numerous parties, such as the federal government, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Army Corps of Engineers. Over time, however, the court dismissed the suit against the other defendants, ultimately leaving the town to stand in court alone. In March 2016, United States District Judge Joanna Seybert ruled that the case against the Army Corps of Engineers would be dismissed.

According to Michael Sendlenski, the town’s head attorney, the town is considering various legal arguments to appeal the verdict. “We are disappointed in the jury’s determination,” he said. “We believe that a number of legal issues were not done properly. We will make efforts to set the jury verdict aside because we believe it is contrary to the law.”

One possible avenue regards “the judge allowing the Army Corps of Engineers out of the case. We believe they are a necessary party to the case, as it is a federally maintained channel and the town doesn’t have the ability to alter it without the Army Corps’ involvement,” he said.

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