Concern Over Trustees Legal Troubles

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A lot of East End sportsmen, surfcasters especially, are worrying about what the recent losses in the courtroom by the Southampton Town Trustees will mean for the freedoms the Trustees protect for all of us. The short answer is: don’t worry, for now.Yes, the Southampton Trustees have been taking it on the chin from this judge a lot lately and, yes, it all has the potential to impact the legal position of the Trustees in East Hampton also. It’s been a few years and at least five or six rulings now and overall it’s hard not to argue that the Trustees dominance of the shoreline has been substantially winnowed. But to the extent that it impacts the key elements of the Trustees authority, there has been little change in the gravitas of their position.

First of all, none of these rulings have really had their final day in court, so this whole discussion is still sort of hypothetical. But it’s hard not to see that many of the new interpretations of law by Judge Mayer stand a good chance of being the future reality (the lawyers opposing the Trustees would say, perhaps correctly, that they’ve always been the reality, just not the perception).

If that is the case, then, yes, the Trustees “authority” is being chipped away. I know that is the great specter that so many sportsmen here on the East End have always feared will ultimately lead to a vastly changed legal landscape, where lawyered-up homeowners can block people from walking or driving across the beaches in front of their waterfront homes and fishermen from other towns can come and harvest fish and shellfish in Southampton and East Hampton waters.

Secondly, even in his rulings against the Trustees, this judge has seemed to confirm that the easement allowing public access to the beaches in Southampton is sound and that the Trustees have the authority to control it. What they can’t do is bar people from putting in sea walls and other protective structures anymore (again, assuming this all stands). But a certain group of consultants and lawyers clearly decided several years ago to advise their clients to just ignore the Trustees claims to such regulatory power and do whatever they wanted. It’s all questionably important in the long run. The whole shore hardening issue has yet to be fully fleshed out on Long Island’s South Shore and the beach nourishment thing has introduced a whole new layer to the conversation.

Hypothetically, it would appear the new rulings might give the villages some legal room to add some layers of control over the beaches, but there has been nothing that would allow them to block residents from accessing the beaches (you know, as long as you’re there to collect seaweed). There’s never been any indication that the villages have any inclination to limit access.

As for the Trustees losing control of their bank accounts, that is really not as ominous at is sounds either. Yes, the idea of the politically intoxicated and influence-prone Town Board deciding which legal battles over our common lands the Trustees can fight and can’t fight is a scary prospect. But on a day-to-day basis, having the Trustees funding in town hands is not going to mean it is syphoned off to pay some highway crewman’s salary. Every department in the town takes in revenues from fees, just like the Trustees, and those revenues go to paying only for the activities of those departments.

This is all something that us freeholders should keep a very close eye on and if things seem to be cascading in a direction we don’t like, we can make our opinions known at the polls.

In the meantime, go get some cod. The bite off Montauk has continued to be very good.

Catch ’em up. See you out there.

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