Vehicles line the beach known as "Truck Beach" east of...

Vehicles line the beach known as "Truck Beach" east of Napeague Lane in Amagansett. Credit: Doug Kuntz

East Hampton Town officials are exploring condemnation of 5,500 feet of Hamptons beach caught in a dispute between truck-driving locals and residents with homes near the ocean.

A June 21 public hearing marks an early step in the town’s proposed eminent-domain acquisition of the disputed Napeague beach in Amagansett, known as “Truck Beach” for its popularity with residents who tailgate in rows of trucks and SUVs.

The 10 a.m. “scoping session” at town hall is to help determine the topics covered by an environmental review of the condemnation proposal.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said condemnation would put to rest a 7-year legal dispute over who holds title to the beach: the town or a group of oceanfront property owners fighting to end the tailgating.

But he said town officials need more information before deciding whether to acquire the beach, including the environmental review, a real-estate appraisal and testimonies from future public hearings.

“This process is just beginning,” Cantwell said Wednesday. If the town condemns the property, a judge would decide how much taxpayers owe the landowners, he said.

Homeowners and a motel owner filed two lawsuits in 2009 claiming ownership of the beach — separated into two strips, one 4,000 feet long and the other 1,500 feet long — and arguing that the tailgaters damage the dunes, endanger children and urinate on the shore.

A trial in the cases ended Monday in Riverhead. A related appellate decision is also pending. Both rulings are expected by September.

Cindi Crain, a media executive who owns a home near the beach, said town officials should abandon the eminent-domain push and instead relocate the vehicles to a beach that is farther from residential communities.

“It’s a safety crisis for children especially,” said Crain, a spokeswoman for a nonprofit backing the homeowners called Safe Access for Everyone.

Residents who drive on the beach call the charges overblown, and say the area is a cherished refuge for locals seeking to escape the Hamptons crowd.

Citizens for Access Rights, a nonprofit started by residents trying to preserve vehicle access, called the homeowners’ lawsuit an attempt at “privatization” of a public beach.

In January, town officials agreed to issue up to $320,000 in bonds to cover the costs of studies and plans related to condemnation.

That month they hired AKRF Inc. of Manhattan, and Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP of Albany, to conduct the environmental review for $165,000 and an appraiser for the land at a cost of $80,400.

A previous version misstated the status of the lawsuits.

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