The sands of an East Hampton beach no longer have trucks driving over it — only the constant engine of litigation.
East Hampton trustees and a dozen fishermen filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the entire town to allow trucks and other vehicles to return, Newsday reported. The suit, to be formally announced this weekend, aims to uphold the rights of town residents to use a contested part of a beach in Napeague for fishing purposes.
The complaint claims that fishermen have enjoyed access to the 4,000-foot beach via trucks and “wheeled conveyances” for more than a century to transport boats and fishing equipment. According to the lawsuit, the right for fishermen to use the beach was enshrined in an 1882 deed.
But homeowners along the beach recently won a case that ruled the beach to be private — substantially increasing their property values.
Five property owners’ associations involved in that litigation are being named defendants in the new lawsuit, according to Newsday. The plaintiffs include several commercial fishermen whose families utilized the coveted waterfront for decades.
One lawyer for the homeowners didn’t appear too concerned about the latest battle at the beach.
“It’s funny stuff,” James Catterson told Newsday. “The bottom line is the town lost and they’ve been trying to escape the effect of that loss ever since.”
The legal dispute over public access to what is colloquially known as “Truck Beach” began in 2009 when homeowners sued the town, wanting to stop the public from driving onto the beach. In 2016, a Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of public access, only to have the decision overturned last February.
The town then asked the Court of Appeals to take the case, but the high court affirmed the ban based on historical documents. Local officials, however, vowed to continue fighting the decision.
Ken Silverman, president of the Dunes at Napeague Property Owners Association, previously told Newsday that the organization was fine with commercial fishermen using the beach with permission, but opposed the use of trucks.
In October, police cited 14 fishermen for trespassing on the beach. The fishermen had driven their trucks across the beach in protest and were issued summonses.
[Newsday] — Holden Walter-Warner