Town of Oyster Bay government has retained a law firm for a potential appeal of court rulings that defined where Long Island Sound begins — rulings that affect the town's regulation of some shellfishing operations.
The New York State Appellate Court, Second Department, last month upheld a lower court decision against the town in a nine-year legal fight that ruled the boundary of the Sound runs along a line from Rocky Point in Oyster Bay east to Whitewood Point on Lloyd Neck.
Town Board members on Tuesday approved spending $25,000 to retain the Garden City law firm of Berkman, Henoch, Peterson Peddy & Fenchel PC The resolution to hire the law firm, which had not been announced before the meeting and was not discussed, stated it was necessary to hire the firm “because of the unique issues involved in a potential appeal to the New York Court of Appeals.”
Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino declined to discuss a potential appeal.
“I’m going to speak to our legal counsel on this first to address this appropriately and fully,” Saladino said.
The town has spent more than $250,000 in outside legal fees on the case, town records show.
At issue in the case, Murphy v. The Town of Oyster Bay, is who can shellfish on about 450 acres of underwater land that the courts have ruled belongs to the state, not the town.
The town has leased the area to shellfishing company Frank M. Flower & Sons Inc. Independent fisherman Bryan C. Murphy was ticketed in 2010 for shellfishing in those waters. He sued on the grounds that he was legally fishing on state waters and New York State argued in the case for the boundaries later upheld by the courts.
Murphy’s lawyer, Darrin Berger of Huntington, said Wednesday he had been informed by the town's outside legal counsel of the appeal.
"This disputed body of water has absolutely no economic value to the town of Oyster Bay other than the leasehold interest that Frank M. Flower has," Berger said. Murphy is free to use his shelfishing license on waters that courts have ruled are part of the Long Island Sound, Berger said.
On Dec. 13, an attorney from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation argued before the Appellate Court that the state boundaries were established through precedent legal cases and tests, court video shows. The town did not participate in the oral arguments, the court video shows.