A battle for the future of the ocean shoreline is shaping up at Georgica Beach in East Hampton, and, as state and local officials nudge the matter slowly toward a court showdown, the beachgoing public’s right to use the beaches is threatened. The dispute points to a difficult time ahead in which the self-interest of waterfront property owners will be increasingly at odds with the desires — and rights — of the public.
East Hampton Village officials are likely to sue a beachfront homeowner who had a bizarre Guantanamo of steel poles installed at the seaward edge of her property in August following serious erosion as Tropical Storm Irene approached. Georgica Beach has been a mess in the last couple of weeks, with anyone hoping to walk west from the village parking lot at high tide forced to duck under the barrier and submit to the gaze of what appears to be a security camera.
Molly Zweig, the property owner, has so far defied the village’s citations for putting in the fence without permits. She, or a representative, was supposed to meet today with the State Department of Environmental Conservation, which is apparently seeking a resolution out of court. Ms. Zweig will undoubtedly claim she is protecting her property; The state should see it as a landgrab and violation of its own regulations.
To the east, things were not much better, with older rock revetments and perpendicular jetties making access difficult. Predictions are that sea level will continue to rise, bringing more, and more rapid, erosion — and more conflicts like that brought on by Ms. Zweig.
This is not just an issue along the ocean, however. For example, the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals will shortly hear a request from the owner of an Amagansett vacation house at Lazy Point who wants to evade the town’s coastal erosion regulations to install a prohibited stone sea wall. If given the go-ahead, public access along this stretch of beach will be severely limited, if not cut off altogether. We hope the zoning board has the stomach to say no in this case and others.
Life on the beach is a temporary proposition, and those who did not realize this when choosing their properties have only themselves to blame. As at Georgica, local officials across the East End will need to stand tough in order to maintain the people’s right of passage against an onslaught from property owners and their lawyers. Too many mistakes were made in the past in allowing houses where they should not be and then approving shore-hardening structures to protect them, robbing the public of its beaches. It is time to draw a line in the sand — while there still is enough sand on which to draw.