The moment has come for the East Hampton Town Trustees to play hardball, as the saying goes. With a vote on Wainscott village incorporation a possibility, which could deprive town residents with practical access to the ocean beach there, it is time for the trustees to stand up and fight.
Controlling the beaches might well be an important unspoken subtext of the drive to carve out a new political entity in Wainscott. Considering the history, the property owners in the Georgica Association have from time to time chafed under an agreement with the trustees regarding access to the pond, with threats from the association to close it to four-wheel-drive vehicles. But the truth is that in politics it is money that matters, and a new village might be more favorably inclined toward aggressive shoreline “protection” schemes that would not be acceptable under town law.
Those factors aside, the beaches have become a central issue for opponents of the village. For thousands of town residents, Beach Lane and Town Line are important year round. For those people who live in the portion of Wainscott outside the proposed village line, as well as residents of the East Hampton Town side of Sag Harbor and in Northwest, going to the ocean means going to one of the Wainscott options. Of course, these folks could spend hundreds of dollars to buy nonresident annual village parking permits or drive to Amagansett or Montauk. That seems hardly fair when they — and their precursors — had enjoyed free access since the town became a town in 1648, a right conferred by the town trustees from the very beginning and formalized by the Nichols and Dongan Patents from crown representatives later in the 17th century.
This 372-year tradition confers a powerful responsibility onto the current trustees to defend the rights of all of the “freeholders of the commonality of the Town of East Hampton,” to whom they are pledged. As elected representatives of all 21,000-plus people who live in the town, the trustees cannot stand on the sidelines as an inherently exclusive enclave is contemplated. The trustees must make it clear that there must be access for all to the Wainscott beaches or there will be access for none. It is within their powers — and is their obligation.