Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation on Monday morning halted bulldozers as they were crossing a stretch of beach overlooking Peconic Bay that the tribe says it owns.
Tribal Trustee Nicole Banks and tribe member Gordell Wright halted a tractor rumbling westward along the waterfront in Hampton Bays and toward a stretch of beachless land where a homeowner is rebuilding a large rock revetment to prevent additional erosion along the steep bluff’s footing. The tribal leaders said that the company had not sought tribal permission to traverse its beachfront.
“This is a sacred place for us,” Ms. Banks said. “This is a place where we come as a community and gather, and it’s very dear to our hearts. We ask that they respect the land and respect the tribe.”
Tractors and trucks carrying stone and sand to the waterfront at 110 Newtown Road, which is owned by Al-Mulla Nabeela, according to Southampton Town Trustees permits, had clearly been crossing the beach in the shadow of a 100-foot bluff for more than two weeks, Mr. Wright added, but had been noticed by tribe members only this week.
The beach lies just to the north of Westwoods, the 79-acre property owned by the tribe that was the focus of a years-long lawsuit with Southampton Town over a tribe proposal to build a casino on it. The tribe holds a gathering on the beach each summer that, ironically, for years caused almost annual conflicts with neighboring homeowners who contend that members of the tribe should not be allowed to cross their beachfront, which lies between Westwoods and the Shinnecock Canal, to bring equipment and elder tribal members to the beach.
The stretch of beach is a rare exception in the town, in that the Town Trustees do not control it under their easement. The Trustees maintain the area seaward of the high tide mark; however, the beach itself is public state property, and its use cannot be restricted by upland property owners.
Shortly after halting the bulldozer on Monday—at least one other tractor was already at the construction site—the tribe members were met on the sand by Tide Water Dock Building owner Ken Hahn, who agreed to order his equipment to retreat for the moment and said he would meet with tribal leaders about accessing the beach. He estimated that the work would be done in less than a week and that the equipment onsite would have to be removed.
“I had been under the impression that if we stayed below the high-tide mark, we were okay,” Mr. Hahn said.
Mr. Hahn noted that the project, which is being conducted with Town Trustee-issued permits, calls for the rebuilding a rock revetment at the foot of the bluff that had collapsed during Hurricane Sandy. He said that the rocks had been reassembled to form the revetment, including the addition of some new stones weighing several tons each. Also, several hundred tons of sand were trucked in to stabilize the bluff. No sand beach exists seaward of the revetment.