Justice Peter H. Mayer of the New York State Supreme Court has ruled that the do not have power to regulate land that sits north of the Atlantic Ocean waterline — a decision the trustees say they will appeal.
The ruling comes as a dismissal to two, 2-year-old cases filed by the Trustees against and three Quogue residents, Paul J. Napoli, Jeffrey Levine and Randi Levine, for installing Geotubes, structures that harden the shoreline.
The Geotubes, which were installed after a storm in 2010, were approved by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, however, the Trustees argued that Quogue and the residents had no right to install the structures on their respective properties without Trustee approval as well.
Mayer issued similar statements regarding both lawsuits. He wrote, "... it is clear that [the Trustees] possess only the right to regulate that portion of the beach which may be south of the high-water mark and not all of the beaches in the township."
Mayer further stated, "Plaintiffs fail to allege that the installation of the Geotubes occurred on or in the area of the beach which is south of the high-water mark, the area which is within their jurisdiction."
Nica B. Strunk, the attorney for the village and residents, said the decision is significant.
"This has wide-ranging consequences for the Trustees," said Strunk, of Esseks, Hefter & Angel, LLP in Riverhead.
"We filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that the Trustees don't have jurisdiction over the ocean beaches and the judge agreed," she said.
Strunk said that in filing a motion to dismiss, lawsuits and documents dating back to 1800 were submitted. She said that information proved the Trustees did not have governing power over ocean beaches.
Eric Shultz, the president of the Trustees, was disheartened by the decision and says the trustees will file an appeal.
"I'd rather be spending the money on putting clams in the bay, but this is just too important to the town," Shultz said.
Shultz says the judge's decision was simply a misinterpretation of prior lawsuits and century-old documents.
"The regulation of the beach been in contention since 1818 and you almost have to be a history professor to untangle it," said Shultz, who added that the Trustees have always maintained that they have an easement over property that sits north of the high-tide line.
Shultz said that in installing the Geotubes, the beachfront was disturbed with trucks, construction equipment and the digging of trenches.
"It is our job to keep the beach open and protected," he said, maintaining that a permit from the Trustees was needed to install the Geotubes.
The installation of Geotubes and other shoreline hardening structures have been a topic of much debate in recent years with the Trustees openly stating that they do not approve of them after they commissioned a report at a cost of $10,000 by shoreline expert Robert Young. The report concluded that the structures will ultimately reduce the size of beaches.
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