The 1,885-foot-long strip of land, just 1 foot wide, runs through East Hampton Town from Montauk Highway to the Atlantic Ocean.
Suffolk County had a modest goal: sell it for $10. But a pair of Manhattan financiers had other ideas for the path that bordered their East End getaways. They launched a bidding war and the price soared -- to $120,000.
Suffolk's property manager said he'd never seen anything like it.
"We've had one or two pieces start off at $400 and maybe go to $10,000, but never like this," Wayne R. Thompson said. "But you know what water's worth . . . You can say, 'Oh, yes, I have a right of way to the water.' "
The battle royale began after Suffolk -- which acquired the wooded ribbon of land in 2003 for nonpayment of taxes -- tried to sell the property in Napeague to any of the six adjoining land owners for $10.
Four of the owners didn't respond to the offer to submit a bid but the other two were so interested the county set up a face-to-face auction and imposed a $1,500 minimum bid.
When Marc Helie and Kyle N. Cruz showed up with checks for $1,500 and the title to their properties on May 30, they were escorted to a small conference room in the county's Division of Real Property Acquisition and Management in Hauppauge, Thompson said.
And the bidding began.
Back and forth they went, 34 times in all, he said. The price rose quickly from $1,500 to $2,000, to $5,000, then to $12,000 and $17,000 . . . until Cruz's bid of $115,000 was topped one final time by Helie, who successfully bid $120,000.
The winning bid was disclosed Wednesday, when the county legislature's finance committee voted 5-0 to recommend the full legislature accept the bid when it meets next week.
The auction "caused quite a stir," Thompson said.
Based on reports from staffers who ran the auction, he said, "I gathered one guy really did not want the other one walking over his property to the water."
Helie's purchase effectively gives him narrow slivers of property on both the east and west sides of Cruz, who would have to walk on Helie's property to reach the ocean beach a few hundred feet away.
Napeague, where both men live, is a tiny enclave of million-dollar houses just west of Montauk, pinched between the Atlantic and Napeague Bay.
Cruz is a managing director at Centerbridge Partners LP in Manhattan, and Helie's Bloomberg profile lists his employer as Chevalier Investments, LLC, in Manhattan.
It is unclear whether the land has any restrictions on it that would grant a public easement to walk on it to the beach, a condition imposed on many East Hampton parcels decades ago when they were first subdivided.
A woman at Helie's Manhattan apartment who identified herself as his attorney declined to comment.
Cruz said, through the intercom at his Manhattan apartment, that he had no comment.
Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who is familiar with East Hampton real estate issues, said there could be several reasons to buy a 1-foot-by-1,885-foot lot.
"That makes a lot 1,800 square feet wider, and lot area matters," Schneiderman said.
With Rick Brand, Lisa Du
and Ivan Pereira
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated Helie's previous employment.