The East Hampton Town Board will hold a public hearing next Thursday on a management plan that calls for the use of goats as well as machinery to remove invasive species at the Benson reserve, a roughly 40-acre stretch of land between Old Montauk Highway and the Atlantic Ocean beach in Montauk.
The plan, as envisioned by Concerned Citizens of Montauk and the Nelson, Pope, and Voorhis environmental planning and land use firm, has drawn criticism from some residents, who pointed to a judge’s 1994 ruling that prohibits fencing or any other structures on the property. Its proponents have diagrammed a plan that would see fencing and a shelter on about half of the eight-acre “middle zone” of the land where two to three goats per acre would be released.
Goats have been employed to treat invasive species at Heckscher State Park in East Islip, on Staten Island, and at Riverside Park in Manhattan.
The project is intended to restore the land, which the town acquired in 1999, to its condition of a century and more ago. The reserve includes several trails providing access to the beach. Proponents describe a 10-year commitment to remove invasive species and restore native flora and fauna while stabilizing the bluffs, enhancing water quality, and restoring ocean views along Old Montauk Highway.
But in August, a month after the plan was described to the town board, two Montauk residents implored the board to reject it, both referring to the 1990s lawsuit decided in favor of plaintiffs, the Breakers Motel et al., and against the defendants Nicola Biase and Sunbeach Montauk Two. The plaintiffs had successfully argued that their deeds grant an easement over the latter’s property. Mr. Biase had bought the land in 1982 and planned to develop it, and in 1984 erected fencing blocking access to the property, precipitating the lawsuit.
A judge ruled in Suffolk County Supreme Court that a restrictive covenant runs with the property, that the plaintiffs and the public have access rights, and that the defendants must remove the fencing and “are without the right to erect fences, berms or other structures” and are “forever barred from making claim to erect such structures.”
Last month, C.C.O.M. launched a petition in support of the project at change.org. As of Tuesday, the petition had 568 signatures. In an email on Monday, the organization again asked residents to urge adoption of the management plan by attending or calling in to next Thursday’s meeting, or writing to the board.
The meeting will start at 11 a.m.