The argument over a stretch of sand in Amagansett has been going back and forth between fishermen and residents of the area almost as often as the tides roll in and out. East Hampton’s commercial fishermen — who have been fishing the waters here for over 300 years — staged a protest on Sunday at the end of Marine Boulevard in Napeague by driving their trucks onto what has come to be known, for obvious reasons, as Truck Beach.
“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 4,000-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,” reported Timothy Bolger in Dan’s Papers earlier this week.
About 40 trucks took part in the convoy, which drove down Marine Boulevard, drove almost a mile down the beach, then turned around and drove off.
It’s not the first time the local fishermen, and their many allies, have used civil disobedience to get their point across. When haulseining (fishing for mostly striped bass from flat bottomed dory boats, with nets) was banned in 1990 by the DEC, a protest was staged at the local Amagansett beach with the Billy Joel, Town Supervisor Tony Bullock, and many other luminati joining in the haulseining party and getting led away in cuffs. The book Men’s Lives by Peter Matthiessen, and the adaptation for the stage by Joe Pintauro, which was the first production at the Bay Street Theater, were odes to the baymen of Long Island and their dying way of life.
The property owners’ battle with the commercial fishermen has been ongoing for generations.
According to attorney John Armentano of Farrell Fritz P.C., “In an action pursuant to RPAPL Article 15, the plaintiffs, a group of Amagensett property owners, claimed unencumbered ownership to Truck Beach based on a 1882 deed from the Trustees to Arthur W. Benson (Benson Deed) conveying fee title to approximately 1,000 acres of prime real estate, which included the subject property,” writes Armentano for Long Island Land Use and Zoning (lilanduseandzoning.com).
“The Benson Deed contained the following reservation: And also except and reserved to the inhabitants of the Town of East Hampton the right to land fish boats and netts [sic] to spread the netts [sic] on the adjacent sands and care for the fish and material as has been customary heretofore on the South Shore of the Town lying Westerly of these conveyed premises.”
The fishermen gain their livelihood at the ocean’s edge; the homeowners claim that the trucks pose a danger to others. Although no politicians were present at the protest, the boundaries of Truck Beach were clearly delineated by stakes and signs posted before the rally.
“Finding the reservation contained in the Benson Deed akin to a public use easement, the Appellate Division did not expand the public’s use beyond fishing and fishing related purposes. As a result, the Trustees are now prohibited from issuing permits for vehicles to park and drive on Truck Beach,” writes Armentano.
According to the baymen, they will continue to exercise their right to civil protest at Truck Beach throughout the summer.