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Courts reject town’s effort to avoid trial in Truck Beach case

Trucks line the beach on the ocean east

Trucks line the beach on the ocean east of Napeauge Lane in Amagansett. Homeowners are making an attempt to privatize the beach. Credit: Safe Access for Everyone

East Hampton Town and its trustees have lost their bid to have two lawsuits seeking to prohibit vehicles on two stretches of Truck Beach in Napeague decided without a trial.

The state Supreme Court ruled against granting a summary judgment in the case, and on Sept. 21 the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division rejected an effort by the town and its trustees to overturn the lower court’s ruling.

“We moved for summary judgment a year ago,” Michael Rikon, a Manhattan attorney who represented the town in the matter, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Summary judgment means there are absolutely no issues of fact, nothing has to be tried and one side or the other is entitled to a judgment. That was not the case here.”

White Sands Motel Holding and residents with homes in Seaview at Amagansett filed the lawsuits in 2009, claiming their properties extend to mean high-water mark, and that the public should not be allowed to use the area above that line.

The trial went forward in June before the appeals court made its ruling. Witnesses for the plaintiffs said trucks driving on the beach damaged the dunes, increased the risk of flooding and presented a danger to children playing nearby. They said that tailgaters were using the sand as a bathroom and that drivers told the motel’s customers to move themselves and their beach chairs and towels so they could pass.

Town officials disputed the plaintiffs’ ownership claims to the properties, including a 4,000-linear-foot stretch known as Truck Beach, and said the properties have historically been popular sites for driving on the beach. Officials added that the practice was formally endorsed by the town in 1991 when the area was designated as a beach that permitted vehicles between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. in the summer.

In each lawsuit, the Appellate Division said the defendants “failed to establish, prima facie, that they are legally permitted to allow individuals to use the disputed area by virtue of a certain reservation clause contained in one of the deeds allegedly comprising the plaintiffs’ chain of title.”

Both sides are awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision on the June trial.

If the plaintiffs prevail, town officials plan to exercise the right of eminent domain by condemning about 22 acres of shorefront property between the mean high-water mark and the dunes.

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