Driftwood Shores Again

The “never-ending saga of Driftwood Shores,” as the clerk of the East Hampton Town Trustees put it, was once again a topic at that body’s meeting on Monday.

In June, several residents of the private development in Springs complained to the trustees that the owners of the last developed lot there were prohibiting use of the beach in front of their property. The new neighbors, Kenneth and Judith Reiss, answered that their deed extends to the mean high-water mark, and said they were suffering hostility and harassment from their neighbors for asserting their ownership.

The trustees, who own and manage many of the town’s beaches, bottomlands, and waterways on behalf of the public, asked all concerned to settle the matter amicably, but also agreed to spend $1,800 on a title search to determine ownership of the beach in question.

Last month, Richard Whalen, the trustees’ attorney, informed the board that the earliest deed found by Fidelity National Title was a handwritten document from 1884 that supports the Reisses’ claim. However, he told the Reisses that the trustees make no claim to the beach “unless some new information comes to light.” At the same meeting, Thomas Fahey, a Driftwood Shores resident, told the trustees he had engaged someone to research the matter, implying the existence of earlier deeds. The trustees told him he was free to pursue the matter.

On Monday, Mr. Whalen told the trustees of continuing “friction” in the Driftwood Shores community and at least one occasion in which police were called. Residents, he said, told police that ownership of the beach is in dispute, and that the trustees may own it. The Reisses, he said, have asked that the trustees “at least put on the record the results of our title search.”

Mr. Whalen’s report led to more friction, this time among the trustees. Francis Bock, the clerk, said that residents complaining about the Reisses’ assertion of ownership were misrepresenting the trustees’ position. “They’re giving the police misinformation,” he said. “The Reisses are asking for something in writing so that if the police are up there, they understand that this is not a trustee issue . . . If it comes to harassment, they should be protected.”

“Hold on,” said Jim Grimes. “If, at some later point, some deed or document surfaces that changes this, I don’t really think it’s our job to either reinforce the Reisses’ position or dispute the Driftwood Shores position.”

The title report, Mr. Whalen said, is public information, and some trustees reminded their colleagues that the Reisses were given a copy.

Pat Mansir agreed with Mr. Bock that the couple is being harassed, but Mr. Grimes was unmoved. “I’m always reluctant,” he said, “to provide any individual with some self-serving document that they can use to basically cram down their neighbors’ throat.” It is a civil matter, he said. “As soon as we inform the Police Department, we’ve chosen a position.”

Mr. Grimes reminded his colleagues that when the issue was initially presented to them, Mr. Whalen told the residents that if they could show uninterrupted use of the beach for more than 10 years, they might have the right to a prescriptive easement, which Mr. Whalen said would not be resolved without litigation. “I think it is time that we’re not involved in this,” Mr. Grimes said.

Mr. Bock complained that, in passively supporting Mr. Fahey’s independent search, “we were manipulated to make it appear that we are not really accepting the results of that title search.” Mr. Grimes disagreed.

Mr. Whalen said he could ask the town attorney’s office to inform the police that “at the moment, based on the evidence we have right now . . . we don’t have a claim to that beach.”

In other news from the meeting, Rick Drew told his colleagues that a subcommittee would hold an organizational meeting with the trustees’ harbor management committee on Wednesday. That committee had been another source of friction among the trustees in recent months, following a discussion of its potential restructuring. Mr. Drew suggested that, in addition to field observation and reporting, the committee’s duties might expand to incorporate environmental issues and interact with officials in Montauk and Sag Harbor.

Preparations for the trustees’ annual Largest Clam Contest, set for Oct. 2 at their headquarters in Amagansett, are underway. The trustees voted to authorize expenditures of up to $3,500 for the event, which includes free shellfish and clam chowder as well as competitions for the largest clam dug from each of four town waterways and the best clam chowder. The trustees have welcomed donations of prizes for the event, which also serves to educate the public as to the trustees’ role in the town’s governance and the work of the town’s shellfish hatchery.