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May 13, 2015 9:46 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Trustees To Appeal Rulings Limiting Authority

May 13, 2015 10:16 AM

The Southampton Town Trustees have pledged to appeal, or at least try to appeal, recent rulings in a trio of parallel lawsuits that strip them of their authority to regulate the construction of protective structures along the oceanfront beaches.

The Board of Trustees last week authorized their attorney, Richard Cahn, to appeal to the state’s highest court to take a third look at the three lawsuits, which have been the subject of complicated and sometimes conflicting rulings by judges.

Last month, the State Supreme Court Appellate Division ruled that the Trustees do not hold any authoritative right to regulate the oceanfront beyond the activities of the general public within the access easement that the Trustees hold over ocean beaches in the name of all town residents.

Mr. Cahn, the Trustees’ longtime litigation attorney, will have two options for an appeal. He can either petition the Appellate Division for leave to appeal, meaning the appellate judges would ask the state Court of Appeals to review some legal interpretation in the cases. Or Mr. Cahn can petition the Court of Appeals directly to review questions of legal interpretation in the appellate ruling.

Members of the Trustees said that appealing the cases was a must for them, as the rulings left too many gaps and potential threats of further erosion of their authority.

“There are a lot of things that have to be resolved,” Trustee Eric Shultz said. “[The ruling] says we can only regulate the traditional uses, like gathering seaweed. But can you drive a truck on the beach to gather seaweed? They used to use an ox-cart to do that—is that all that can still be used on the beach? Do the villages now have the regulatory power to change the times you can drive on the beach? It’s unfair to the public to have all this out there unanswered.”

On their face, the appellate court rulings strip the Trustees, the oldest elected body in the country, of its authority to regulate the installation of hardened protective structures, like seawalls, rock revetments and large sandbag arrangements, along the beachhead of private oceanfront properties.

Two of the three lawsuits were sparked by the use of the large sandbags—dozens of 1-ton blocks of sand and cloth, known as Geocubes, strung together and buried beneath artificial dunes—to protect two homes in Quogue Village and the village’s beach pavilion. The village permitted the placement of the sandbags following severe beach erosion in 2011, but the Trustees sued, arguing that the homeowners and the village had not obtained permission from the Trustees. They had previously denied an application for a somewhat more substantial protective system by one of the Quogue homeowners who was a defendant in the Quogue lawsuit.

The third suit was brought against the Trustees by West Hampton Dunes Village, as an adjunct to the Quogue lawsuits, in hopes of challenging the Trustees’ authority within their boundaries as well.

The ruling by the appellate court made no distinctions between the Trustees’ authority within the villages and outside, and said simply that the Trustees’ authority along the beachfront could only be interpreted as being that which was bestowed upon them by 19th century state legislation that gave them the right to regulate activities like fishing and gathering seaweed along the oceanfront.

The strict interpretation of that law seemed to cast into doubt whether the Trustees’ authority applies to—and thus protects and preserves—many of the modern-day activities that take place on ocean beaches, such as vehicle access.

The Trustees will address their interpretations of the rulings, and the authority it leaves them with, at their next meeting, on Monday, May 18, at 1 p.m.

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There are those, in and out of government, who would either drop these Trustee lawsuits, or give away major concessions in order to settle them. They want this litigation to go away, either to save a few dollars in fees, or to undercut the Trustees as part of a turf war, or because they have for one reason or other gone over to the other side.

These people are tragically mistaken at best, and criminally culpable at worst. What is at stake here is much more than the particular issues ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on May 13, 15 10:48 AM
So very true:( The very survival of our beaches depend on it!!! Loose them and your property won't be worth 2 cents!!
By sandydog21 (195), Southampton on May 13, 15 10:58 AM
Rare is the occasion when I agree with TB, but he is so fully on point here that their can be no disputing what he wrote.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on May 13, 15 4:55 PM
It's pathetic when the longest continually elected officials in the United States of America are continually undercut and their powers threatened. How can anyone believe that the Trustees are the most important governing body around?
By Nature (2966), Southampton on May 14, 15 9:19 AM
Ditto to all and bigfresh below.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on May 14, 15 12:22 PM
1 member liked this comment
**are not the most important.
By Nature (2966), Southampton on May 14, 15 3:04 PM
Smith's Point, here we come!
By Mouthampton (439), Southampton on May 13, 15 3:36 PM
Our right to "pass and re pass" all beaches has been interpreted to include 4x4 vehicles and spending a day on the beach at the Picnic Area in Southampton is a pastime enjoyed by many many Town residents, this right must be preserved! It's hard to imagine life here without this. Support our Trustees, join SABA, Southampton Association for Beach Access.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on May 13, 15 7:08 PM
We have lost too much access & rights to our beaches as it is. What we once shared with everyone has now become a turf war! It has to stop and we need to back the Trustees in this fight! The only other way we will gain our beaches back is another hurricane like the 1938 one & rely on good ol' Mother Nature!
By Linda Goldsmith (8), Hampton Bays on May 14, 15 12:28 PM
I'm not sure if I'm reading this correctly. Did the town fathers want to block the installation of private sandbags to prevent erosion???? If that's the case, shame on them. Sometimes nature needs some help.
By jediscuba (71), Bayside on May 14, 15 3:37 PM
"Sometimes nature needs some help." Really, jediscuba? I don't think so. You've heard how "you can't fight Mother Nature," right? Well the fact is, your idea of "help" sounds a lot like trying to get Mother Nature do do what we want instead of what she wants, and that in turn sounds like fighting Mother Nature. Dead end.

Take a look at Linda Goldsmith's post right above yours. She's got it right.
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on May 15, 15 2:51 PM