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Trial highlights clash between people, vehicles on East End

Phil Gay. of Water Mill, counts the cars

Phil Gay. of Water Mill, counts the cars on a local beach in a photo at a May 12 meeting with the Southampton Board of Trustees, which is considering limits on permitting vehicles on the beach. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

One of David Lys’ favorite childhood memories is of piling into the back of a pickup with family members and heading off for a lazy day of barbecuing and other fun along a 4,000-linear-foot stretch of Amagansett oceanfront.

“It was our little piece of heaven,” Lys, a 40-year-old Springs resident and physical therapist, said of Napeague Beach.

Fast forward three decades to a lawsuit being heard this week in State Supreme Court in Riverhead, where the once nearly desolate area is being referred to as “Truck Beach.” A July 2014 video shows 4x4s, including sport-utility vehicles, pickups and ATVs, dominating much of the stretch — some parked and others darting about in close proximity to children. At one point, a man and woman urinate on the sand.

“I don’t feel safe taking my son down there,” Cindi Crain, 47, a media executive and plaintiff in the case, testified.

A 2009 lawsuit that led to the trial is one of several filed in a man-versus-machine/blue-collar locals-versus-wealthy-homeowners battle underway in East Hampton Town and Southampton Village.

The communities are feuding over who owns the rights to the beach and whether to continue the long-standing summertime tradition of allowing 4x4s and other trucks and SUVs onto certain beaches.

The battle reached a fever pitch this week with the start of the trial in Riverhead on Monday and the third session of a public hearing on the issue Thursday night in Southampton.

The hearing is to consider Mayor Mark Epley’s proposal to allow only 175 4x4s at a time on the Road G beach on Meadow Lane, as the village’s last-ditch effort to compromise and keep two lawsuits against the village and its trustees from going to trial.

“That place is about the hardworking people in this town who need a place to go and relax, to talk about whatever they want to talk about, cook whatever they want to cook on the grill, go swimming, watch their kids grow up, walk their dogs,” Phil Gay, a Water Mill resident and the owner of East End Clambakes in Southampton, said of the 2,000-foot-long section of beach known as “The Picnic Area.”

Strunk said her clients would like to see trucks banned.

Epley said in an interview Tuesday that trying to find a solution is difficult.

“It’s a tough issue,” he said. “People are speaking with passion about it. People have gone down there [to the beach] with their trucks for generations . . . and the homeowners down there are good people who support our arts centers and our youth programs.”

The trial in Riverhead could last until the end of next week.

Because the East Hampton case is ongoing, Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell would only say, “We’re trying to defend the public’s tradition of using that [Napeague] beach.

Epley said the public hearing will close after Thursday night’s comments and that he hopes to have a decision on his proposal by the start of the summer season.

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