April 27, 2011
Boards Vow Vigorous Defense
They just kept coming. Wave after wave of people poured into East Hampton Town Hall last Thursday night, some carrying signs that said "Keep East End Beaches Public."
| (click for larger version)|
In the wake of news that property owners along the ocean in Amagansett were suing to claim the shoreline for their own, community members packed town hall to standing room only capacity. Their message? Don't settle. Don't surrender.
Comments from Town Trustee Clerk Diane McNally and Supervisor Bill Wilkinson appeared to allay anxiety at the outset. McNally took the podium first, expressing pleasure at the number of people who came out "to let us know how much you support us."
"The trustee board and the town board have done everything we can at this point with regard to this suit," McNally assured. "We will not compromise on the public's access to the beaches and all we can do is await the decision of the courts . . . that's where we stand, together."
"There is no question of our support for the trustees," Wilkinson added. "There is no question of our support for the beaches to remain the way they are . . . We support the trustees and whatever help they need, we're here."
Although the crowd numbered close to 200, few speakers addressed the board once McNally and Wilkinson offered reassurance.
Local fishing icon Stuart Vorpahl weighed in, noting that, historically, real estate brokers and attorneys trying to sell property convince people they'll own land "all the way to Portugal." That's not true, Vorpahl said, offering a lengthy discussion of the deeds that form a basis for the suit.
Additional support and concern for the town's defense of the suit came from a variety of local organizations. Tim Beringher, Steve Tekulsky and Jay Blatt of the Surfriders Foundation, the East Hampton Sportsmen's Association, Montauk Surfcasters, and the New York Coalition of Recreational Fishermen urged the town to defend public beach access with vigor. Blatt opined the beach driving aspect of the suit – property owners have complained about the volume of trucks both driving and parking on the beach -- was nothing more than an effort to deflect attention from the litigants' true agenda: to privatize the beach and dramatically increase their property rights.
Blatt noted, as did others, that in 75 years, there has never been a serious accident attributable to trucks on the beach. He believes the sale of oceanfront land was "obviously illegal," and the town has the power to reverse it. A stronger police presence might assuage some of the neighbors' complaints, he offered.
The threat to the beaches sparked the creation of a new organization, Citizens For Access Rights, which already has close to 700 supporters on Facebook. Representing the group, Tim Taylor explained CFAR is a non-political group organized to raise money to donate to the defense of the suit. He handed out a resolution he hopes the town board will adopt. The proposal characterizes efforts to privatize public beaches as "an outrageous assault on traditional values and rights of the people of East Hampton," and affords the town board the chance to resolve to defend the suit, provide the trustees with funding, and "take whatever steps are necessary" to protect beach access. Councilwoman Julia Prince said she'd like to review the resie and adopt it in the future. Councilman Dominick Stanzione noted that if the trustees lose the suit, "It will come down to us and we have taken no actions off the table."
Fallon Bloecker, whose father Joe is a trustee, said she loves driving on the beach. A senior at East Hampton High School, she urged town officials to fight for access, reporting that she and her friends are looking forward to driving on the beach this summer and casting their first votes this fall.
Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, commenting on the suit, said the idea of privatized beaches is "abhorrent" to her. Public beaches are "our heritage and who we are," she said.
Both Wilkinson and Quigley seemed surprised anyone would think they'd do anything but fight for public beach access. When an audience member called out "There's been no clear statement about what you're doing," Quigley apologized, and McNally returned to the podium to explain some of the history of the suit. It was filed in 2009, but "didn't catch anybody's attention." The trustees immediately hired special counsel to defend the suit. "We have done everything we can to this point," McNally declared. "And we're not compromising," Trustee Stephanie Talmage called out from her place in the middle of the crowd.