Southampton Trustees To File Suit Against Southampton Village And DEC For Beach Structures

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The Southampton Town Trustees intend to file a lawsuit against Southampton Village and the State Department of Environmental Conservation this week, asking the courts to determine whether they have complied with state regulations pertaining to hard structures and bulkheads on beaches.

Joseph Lombardo, the attorney representing the Trustees, said he planned to file the lawsuit in Suffolk County court on Tuesday morning. The suit seeks a declaration from the court that the DEC and the village have not been following state coastal policies with regard to rebuilding beaches in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and other recent powerful storms. The suit will specifically name both the DEC and Southampton Village as well as Jonathan Foster, the senior building inspector for the village, who authorized several bulkhead permits granted to oceanfront property owners.

On Monday morning, Trustee Fred Havemeyer said his office has been working with consultant Steven Resler, the retired chief compliance officer for the Department of State, to learn as much as possible about the regulations that both the DEC and the village are required to follow.

According to Mr. Havemeyer, Mr. Resler was the chief compliance officer who helped write the regulations in question and has a deep understanding of the laws. The Department of State writes all regulations, which are then interpreted by the DEC, and then locally interpreted by municipalities, according to Mr. Havemeyer.

“The lawsuit is simply asking a judge to look over the situation and determine whether the DEC and the village have complied with the regulations,” Mr. Havemeyer said in a phone interview on Monday. “And if they haven’t, it is asking them to comply with them in the future.”

Southampton Village has taken heat from the Trustees and local environmental groups in the past year for approving steel and stone seawalls to protect oceanfront homes in the wake of recent storms and subsequent erosion. The projects, which were allowed as post-storm emergency measures, skirted regional public policies that generally forbid new hard structures on the beach, although existing structures can be replaced.

According to Mr. Havemeyer, the village interpreted the emergency measure, which allowed for damaged bulkheads and seawalls to be repaired within 18 inches of the original structure, very loosely, in some cases allowing steel to be installed behind perfectly functioning bulkheads to raise the structures by between 5 and 10 feet.

In May, complaints led the DEC to ask the village not to authorize any more permits while the agency investigated the issue, a move that was lifted without explanation during the summer pending a report. The permit authorization, and, in the Trustees’ eyes, the DEC’s failure to act have led to this week’s suit.

Now the Trustees are hoping the court will require that they be notified of any application regarding a bulkhead or similar hard structure on village beaches.

“The shore-hardening structures have the potential of basically destroying the beaches,” Mr. Lombardo said on Monday morning. “The beaches have public access easements that the Trustees are the stewards of, and the Trustees want to make sure the easement isn’t diminished. The Trustees are trying to preserve the beaches.”

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