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Montauk erosion lawsuit should go to trial, federal judge says

Beach erosion along the beach in Montauk on

Beach erosion along the beach in Montauk on Jan. 24, 2017. Photo Credit: Thomas Muse

A federal judge has rejected a bid by East Hampton Town officials to forgo a trial in a lawsuit that alleges the town shirked its responsibility to control the erosion of Montauk beaches.

U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert, of the Eastern District of New York, said in a recent ruling that she would not decide the case without a trial — as town attorneys had requested in a motion for summary judgment — because the owners of 11 Montauk homes have enough factual evidence to present to a jury.

“The Town was ostensibly aware of the effect of erosion and did not intervene,” Seybert said in her ruling, which was filed in the Central Islip federal courthouse on March 31.

The homeowners filed the lawsuit against the town in 2012, alleging that town-owned jetties on Lake Montauk Harbor have exacerbated erosion. The plaintiffs said they have spent more than $2.5 million to address the damage to their beachfront properties on Captain Kidd’s Path and Soundview Drive in Montauk’s Culloden Shores.

“The destruction of our beaches is not the result of a natural disaster,” one of the plaintiffs, Frank DeVito, said in a statement. “It is the result of government inaction and indifference . . . .”

East Hampton Town Attorney Michael Sendlenski said he cannot comment on pending litigation.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which built the jetties, was dismissed as a defendant in the lawsuit. The next hearing has not yet been scheduled.

In an effort to prevent coastal storm damage and erosion on Lake Montauk Harbor Inlet, the Army Corps last year proposed building a 10-foot berm and groins, which are artificial wall-like structures that extend from the shore into the water to trap sand.

Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said at a town board work session last week that the town would be responsible for paying the $11 million difference in cost for an alternative solution because groins are not permitted under a local revitalization plan.

Cantwell proposed that the Corps conduct a further study into dredging the inlet channel to both widen the channel for navigation purposes and provide sand for beach replenishment on the inlet’s west side — where the plaintiffs’ homes are located.

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