A cavalcade of trucks drove across a strip of Amagansett beach Sunday morning to protest a recent state Supreme Court order barring vehicles from the popular fishing and recreation spot.
The temporary restraining order earlier this month directed East Hampton Town to ban vehicle access between the eastern side of Napeague Lane and the western boundary of Napeague State Park. On Sunday, fisherman, beach rights advocates and other supporters climbed into more than 40 pickups and other trucks and traversed the section of contested beach in a display of opposition to the court order.
“We’re trying to say it’s not private property,” said Dan Lester, a commercial fisherman who lives in the East Hampton Town hamlet of Springs, referring to what is traditionally known as “Truck Beach.” “We’ve been doing this for … years.”
Attorney Dan Rodgers attended the protest and said he would offer pro bono representation to anyone who participated and received a summons, although it appeared that none were issued. Fence poles were erected from the dunes to the water, but four wheelers were able to bypass them.
The town and a group of Amagansett homeowners have been at odds for years over whether the Atlantic-facing beach is public or private property. Homeowners sued East Hampton in 2009, claiming the beach was private and the town had no right to allow the public to drive on it.
The New York State Supreme Court ruled in favor of East Hampton in a 2016 decision. However, a Feb. 3 decision this year from the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department essentially reversed that order, ruling in favor of the homeowners while allowing public access to the beach for fishing.
On June 4, Justice Paul J. Baisley Jr. granted the homeowners a temporary restraining order, demanding the town “prohibit and prevent any and all driving and/or parking on the beaches owned by the plaintiff homeowners associations.” If East Hampton does not comply, the town risks being held in contempt of court.
Neither East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo, Town Superivsor Peter Van Scoyoc, nor an attorney representing the homeowners, immediately responded to requests for comment Sunday.
The beach is also a popular weekend spot for off-roading, a tradition protesters said dates back to the 1950s. Fisherman said shoaling in the area makes the beach a prime draw for striped bass and blue fish. Lester said fish caught from the spot can make up to 20% of a commercial angler’s annual income.
He said they would be back on the beach to fish for striped bass, a season that varies but typically runs from October through December, regardless of the ruling.
Other fisherman said the fishing has been historically so good in the area that their fathers and grandfathers would drive on the beach in the middle of the night and sleep in their trucks to stake out a spot come morning.
“To deny somebody their income by not being able to fish here is unconstitutional in my eyes,” said fisherman Ed McCloskey of East Hampton.