The Town of East Hampton is begrudgingly enforcing a New York State court order prohibiting off-roaders from driving on Truck Beach in Napeague after the town recently lost a lawsuit over access.
After a panel of appeals court judges in February overturned a lower court’s ruling that the beach was public and not private land, the court and town initially still allowed drivers access to go fishing at the about 4,0000-foot stretch of sand west of Napeague State Park. But on June 4 the court granted a group of homeowners a temporary restraining order prohibiting any public access at all, nixing the surf-caster exemption, while the town considers its next move.
“We need to take every step necessary in order to insure our traditional beach access rights, no matter where they are within the township, and I’m committed to using every possible means to do so,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said at a town board work session on June 8. “But in the interim we’re asking the public to just be patient and comply until we get further clarification and chart our next step.”
The state Supreme Court rejected in 2016 four homeowners associations’ lawsuit claiming that Truck Beach was private, based on an 1882 land sale by the Town Trustees to Arthur Benson, and that ownership was included in subsequent property deeds. But the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department reversed that ruling this winter.
Van Scoyoc said the town is weighing its legal options. It can appeal the ruling to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. It can also initiate condemnation proceedings over the beach to insure public access by taking the land through eminent domain.
If the town succeeded, it would have to pay for the oceanfront property out of its own coffers, as the Community Preservation Fund, an open space acquisition program fed by a 2% real estate transfer tax, cannot be used for condemnations.
“The CPF law expressly prohibits its use for condemnation of land,” said state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), who oversees the program. “Another source of funds would be needed.”