Montauk Erosion Not Town’s Fault, Appeals Court Rules

Jetty to Montauk Harbor where erosion is a problem
Jetty to Montauk Harbor
Getty Images)

The Town of East Hampton will not have to pay to repair beach erosion caused by jetties that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built in Montauk Harbor, a panel of federal appeals court judges has ruled.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in Manhattan affirmed on September 7 a federal district court judge’s previous ruling to dismiss a lawsuit in which a group of 11 homeowners claimed the town and federal government were responsible for the erosion.

The 2nd Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs “presented no evidence at trial that the town knew or had any reason to believe that the jetties would cause erosion to the private beaches to the west of the jetties when the town relinquished control of the jetties in 1942.”

The plaintiffs filed suit a decade ago and the case went to trial in 2018, when a jury dismissed claims of public nuisance but awarded the plaintiffs $355,961 in damages for private nuisance and trespass — claims that U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert later dismissed.

“The jetties were necessary and served a greater public good,” Seybert ruled, “Plaintiffs bought their homes long after the jetties were built, and … the town attempted to work with the plaintiff landowners to address the erosion.”

To that end, the Army Corps of Engineers plans to dredge the Lake Montauk harbor channel and place sand from that project on the beaches immediately west of the inlet.

“We are pleased that the appellate court recognized that the town is not responsible for an Army Corps project over which the town has no control,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said.

It is unclear if the plaintiffs plan to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

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