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Judge rejects Oyster Bay's latest effort to redefine LI Sound boundary

Bryan Murphy, an independent fisherman, brought the case

Bryan Murphy, an independent fisherman, brought the case against Oyster Bay Town in 2010 after he was ticketed in New York State waters that town officials contended were owned by Oyster Bay.   Credit: Steve Pfost

A New York State judge has rejected Oyster Bay’s latest attempt in a decadelong legal fight to claim possession of underwater lands north of Oyster Bay Harbor.

The town sought to have a 2016 ruling that defined the boundary of the Long Island Sound thrown out because of a “newly discovered” 1881 state statute that the town interpreted as extending Oyster Bay’s northern boundary — and its property rights — to the Connecticut border.

In a May 10 ruling, state Supreme Court Judge Stephen Bucaria disagreed, writing, “Clearly, the State Legislature did not grant any ‘right, title and interest’ to the Town of Oyster Bay to the land under the waters beyond what was given by Andros Patent and as more clearly defined in this Court’s prior decision.”

The case was brought in 2010 by independent fisherman Bryan Murphy after he was ticketed in New York State waters that town officials contended were owned by Oyster Bay.

The original case focused on interpretations of the Colonial-era Andros Patent, a 1667 land grant that defined the northern boundary of Oyster Bay but left room for interpretation on the exact line. Bucaria, in his 2016 ruling, defined that line as running from Rocky Point to Whitewood Point on Lloyd’s Neck. That boundary — farther south than the town had argued for — meant that Oyster Bay’s lease of about 1,800 acres of underwater land to private shellfishing company Frank M. Flower & Sons Inc. included approximately 450 acres that were actually owned by New York State. It also meant that Murphy had been legally fishing on state property when he was ticketed in 2010.

“His state license allows him to shellfish on state underwater property,” Murphy’s attorney, Darrin Berger of Huntington, said Tuesday. “The court basically held that where he was is state-owned property.”

Berger said he thought this would be the end of the legal challenges by Oyster Bay.

“From a legal standpoint they’ve run out of options,” he said.

The town has spent at least $295,000 on legal fees over the past decade on the case. The town lost an appeal in 2019 of the original ruling and then hired Garden City-based Berkman Henoch Peterson Peddy & Fenchel to pursue a new legal approach based on the 1881 law. 

Bucaria wrote in his ruling that the town’s “contentions” in its latest approach were “wholly misguided” and he denied Oyster Bay’s motion to vacate his 2016 ruling. The state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, last year declined to hear the case.

Oyster Bay officials did not respond to requests for comment.

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