A lawsuit over access to the popular "Truck Beach" in Amagansett has been decided in favor of a group of oceanfront homeowners, but East Hampton Town officials will continue to fight for residents’ beach rights.
The state Court of Appeals on Tuesday denied the town’s motion to appeal the case, ending the yearslong lawsuit, which drew attention because it pitted access rights of town residents and commercial fishermen against wealthy beachfront property owners.
A group of Amagansett property owners sued the town and its trustees in 2009, claiming East Hampton had no right to allow the public to drive on a 4,000-linear-foot beach. A state Supreme Court judge ruled in East Hampton’s favor in 2016, upholding the decadeslong tradition. But a panel of judges in the Appellate Division overturned that ruling in February.
The decision Tuesday means the February ruling stands and the beach belongs to the approximately 110 homeowners who now would also be responsible for maintaining it.
"It puts this to bed," said the homeowners’ attorney, Stephen Angel of the Riverhead-based firm Esseks, Hefter, Angel, Di Talia & Pasca LLP. "Our clients own the property."
East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said Thursday that he is in favor of pursuing condemnation and will soon begin discussions with the town board.
"I personally feel it’s incumbent upon us and appropriate to condemn for the public good," Van Scoyoc said.
Angel questioned whether the town would go through with an eminent domain proceeding, given the high value of the oceanfront properties. However, it is not clear at what cost the beach could ultimately be assessed at, given it is not buildable land.
A state Supreme Court restraining order issued in June required that the town prevent any driving on the beach. Van Scoyoc said the appeals case, however, upheld the rights of fishermen to use the beach.
"The judge went beyond and seems to have excluded that right, which I think is not appropriate for the court to do," he said.
Attorney Dan Rodgers, who represents fishermen, said his clients will continue to fish from the shore and will use vehicles to access the beach as their families have done for generations. They used wheeled carts during whaling days, he noted.
Rodgers said that since the beach is private and not public property, a homeowner would have to file a trespassing complaint with town police to keep someone off the shore. He said he would sue for wrongful arrest if that were to happen.
"They’ve been fishing there for 300-plus years," Rodgers said. "They have made that clear to me, [that] they will go to jail over this."