East Hampton Town will continue to fight to preserve public access to Amagansett’s popular "Truck Beach" following a recent court ruling in favor of property owners’ claim that the beach is privately owned.
A group of Amagansett property owners sued the town and its trustees in 2009, essentially claiming the town had no right to allow the public to drive on a 4,000-linear-foot beach and an approximately 1,500-linear-foot stretch near the White Sands Motel. A state Supreme Court judge ruled in East Hampton’s favor in 2016, upholding the decadeslong tradition.
Now a Feb. 3 ruling by a four-judge panel from the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department, amends much of that earlier decision and strips the town’s rights to issue permits for 4x4 vehicles to traverse the beach.
Town officials said in a news release that East Hampton will seek judicial approval to appeal the Appellate Division ruling and explore condemnation of the beach if the appeal is denied.
"The Town Board will take any and all steps necessary to insure [sic] that East Hampton’s longstanding, cherished rights and tradition of public beach access continue now and for generations to come," East Hampton Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said Friday in a news release.
The appellate judges concluded that the property owners proved they owned the beach and wrote that an easement in an 1882 land deed did not grant the town the right to allow the public to operate and park vehicles on the beach. It did, however, allow for "fishing and fishing-related purposes," they said.
Members of Citizens for Access Rights, a group that formed largely in response to the lawsuit, said it was disappointed by and disagreed with the latest decision.
In a social media post, it urged beachgoers to "voice your support for public access to the Town’s beaches and support their efforts to keep the ocean beaches in Napeague open to the public for ALL to enjoy."
The homeowners’ attorney, Stephen Angel of the Riverhead-based firm Esseks, Hefter, Angel, Di Talia & Pasca LLP, said he was happy with the decision but that his clients obviously would not want to see the beach condemned.
"The property probably has very high value, and the question is is the town willing to take the risk of paying a literal fortune for 22 acres of beach in a relatively luxurious area," Angel said. "That’s a big question."