The Inertia

Locals in Long Island Are Actually Fighting Over WHO Owns the Beach

SUV’s and beach goers share the same stretch of beach in East Hampton. Who has the right of way?


The Inertia

There is an actual Battle of the Beach going down in a coastal town on the South Shore of Long Island. For years, residents of East Hampton have noticed a stretch of their local beach turning into a literal sand-paved (not really paved at all, actually) parking lot. Every June through September, Napeague’s aptly named “Truck Beach” allows access to the beach from 9 am to 6 pm, and local homeowners aren’t too stoked on the ordeal. That’s because according to them, “access to the beach” has turned their tiny stretch of coast into a sandy keg party with SUV’s zooming along the high tide lines. But that’s depending on who you ask, because on the other side of the argument visitors are claiming the gripes have created full on class warfare.

“Congested SUV beach driving and parking, keg parties and primary dune destruction on infamously nicknamed “Truck Beach” in Napeague threaten the safety of East Hampton’s children and families,” read a press release from SAFE, the East Hampton organization lobbying for safer beach access. SAFE goes on to paint a picture of local families and their children spending a day at the beach where they must “dodge speeding SUVs and squeeze between tightly parked trucks in order to get to the shoreline. The SUV enthusiasts use the beach, dunes and adjoining residences’ backyards as their toilets.” The organization’s website features an embedded news story of a Ft. Lauderdale woman who was run over by a beach safety vehicle, driving in the danger angle of automobiles and people sharing the same space. Then again, lifeguard trucks aren’t exactly out of place driving on the sand. So whether or not this example parallels what’s happening on Long Island’s south shore or exaggerates the problem is upto interpretation. In 2009 a lawsuit was filed arguing that the homeowners in this area own the stretch of beach near their houses, therefore giving them the right to prohibit or restrict access to the beach.

So it’s an all out war. One submission to a local publication from a homeowner made the following argument in 2011:

I’ve lived on Napeague for the past 29 summers. The beach parking issue is out of hand. There are literally hundreds of truck parked all day long with no bathroom facilities. I have seen people urinate behind their trucks or head up into the dunes. It’s just lovely. CFAR [Citizens For Access Rights] is making this a class issue. It’s not. They destroy the beach every weekend with their trucks. I love seeing families enjoying the beach but turning a gorgeous stretch into a parking lot is obnoxious. CFAR should also remember that the Napeague homeowners are members of this community, pay taxes and support local farms, stores, etc.

A counterpoint published in the same feature had this response:

I encourage you to count the trucks. I was there last weekend and counted 40 vehicles. You are exaggerating. Actually you are making it a class issue – you don’t like seeing the working public on your beach. Those trucks were there way before you were there. Oh and I’m sorry did you say you lived out here for 29 summers??? We live here year round – pay taxes and support local businesses year round. There are plenty of other beaches in EH without bathrooms – why is this one singled out because it affects YOU? The beach goers are also taxpayers in this community – so what makes you more important than us? Because you can afford a house on the ocean?

Fussing and fighting over who has the right to visit, enjoy, or even own a stretch of beach simply because of their zip code isn’t exclusive to this community. And if organizations like SAFE win the right to restrict or change access to their beaches it certainly won’t be the last time somebody fights this battle. But are they sensationalizing a problem in order to save property value? Or is it time for their local government to pony up, get resourceful, and find a better alternative to accommodating the rush of beach goers every summer?

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