East Hampton Town and its trustees on Monday won the right to allow the public to continue a long tradition of driving vehicles on a stretch of Napeague Beach in Amagansett known as “Truck Beach.”
The 33-page ruling by State Supreme Court Judge Ralph T. Gazzillo in Riverhead was expected to end a seven-year battle over who has rights to the 4,000-linear-foot beach and an approximately 1,500-linear-foot stretch near the White Sands Motel after two lawsuits were brought by beachfront homeowners and the motel.
In the filings, the plaintiffs claimed the trucks infringe on their properties, present an environmental hazard, put nearby children in danger and that some used the beach as a bathroom.
Steve Angel, a Riverhead attorney representing the various homeowners’ associations and the motel, said he will recommend an appeal.
“We disagree with what the judge has found and are disappointed in the decision,” Angel said.
Gazzillo issued his strongly-worded ruling after hearing the testimony of 22 witnesses during a five-day trial in June. He was “not at all persuaded that the plaintiffs have established ownership of the beach,” he wrote in the ruling. “Taken one step further, the absence of ownership severely undermines the support for the balance of their ‘nuisance’ claims.”
Gazzillo said he found the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses “questionable,” “unimpressive” and “contradictory,” while finding the defense witnesses “credible,” “harmonious” and “persuasive.”
“There has been no proof of any reports of any beach-related injuries or illnesses,” Gazzillo said. “There is also no proof that there has been any noteworthy amount of reports of violations of law on the beach. Additionally, there has been no demonstration that the ocean waters have been in any way polluted or compromised [or even tested].”
East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said officials are extremely happy with the ruling.
“It’s a very strong decision by Judge Gazzillo,” Cantwell said. “He took a pretty strong interest and reached firm conclusions about public access rights for the inhabitants of the town, and we’re delighted by his decision.”
David Lys, 40, is a Springs resident who said he has enjoyed taking trucks down to the beach with his family for years. He said he was “ecstatic” over the ruling.
“The judge saw the validity of the town’s claims, that it’s a set tradition and [cited] the overreaching arms of the homeowners,” Lys said. “Now my children, my friends’ children and their grandchildren can use the beach however they want, and this prevents people in other towns from trying to privatize a public beach.”
Southampton Village, which also allows trucks on the beach, is facing similar lawsuits.
Angel said his clients have a good case for appeal, and one Amagansett homeowner agreed.
“We still firmly believe in our decision,” said Cindi Crain.