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Mattituck Soundfront Property Owner Says She is Not 'Sue Happy'

Christine Rivera said she never wanted to sue New York State, her neighbor, and now Southold Town — the latest lawsuit involving a decorative roadside boulder.

Being ‘sue happy’ is the last thing Mattituck resident Christine Rivera said she wants to be known for around town.

But two lawsuits later and that’s the reputation she’s developed over recent years — all for the protection of her beachfront property rights just west of the Mattituck Inlet on the Long Island Sound, she says.

“Of course I don’t enjoy taking people to court — it’s exorbitantly expensive,” she said. “But you can only ask someone nicely time and time again to not trespass. When they don’t listen, I’ve felt that my only option is to take them to court.”

Rivera, who has lived full-time with her husband, Richard, in an elaborate home at the end of Inlet Drive since 1997, is referring to her Rivera said that she because he she just wanted to be left alone.

“I’ve known Paul for 35 years,” Rivera said. “But he was not only going on the beach, he was leaving his chairs and umbrellas — it was non-stop.”

The day before the Calabro trail ended, Rivera said that workers from removed a decorative boulder, which had sat for years along a roadside berm on Inlet Drive. Rivera says the rock was on her property; Southold Town Supervisor Russell has said that the rock was located well within Town property and was blocking a public path to a town-owned section of beach. The Riveras have filed suit in federal court seeking $1 million in damages from the town over this latest dispute. 

Rivera said she feels like there was a lot of political pressure on the Town during the Calabro trial to remove the rock. She said that the last time that particular rock was mentioned was in 2007, when Russell told her that rock was blocking a town right of way.

“He said he had a survey that proved the rock was on Town property, but I never saw that survey,” Rivera said. “Then I never heard another word about it until the day before the trial was over when they came and removed it.”

Rivera said she stands by her claim and her own survey that the rock was on her property. Scott Russell declined to comment on the pending lawsuit nor did he send North Fork Patch the 2007 survey Rivera had spoken about. During a Southold Town Board meeting on Jan. 17, the board voted to pass a resolution to have a $900 survey of the Inlet Drive road end prepared.

But Rivera, who has earned a living with her husband in the construction business, said that no rock on earth is worth $1 million — and she says that since the mid-1950s, when her family would travel from Rockville Centre to summer on the same property next to, the neighborhood was always very friendly.

The root of the ongoing conflict, she says, has taken hold because her front yard beach has expanded over the years by accretion, the gradual accumulation of sand, not avulsion, which is "the sudden movement of soil from one property to another as a result of a flood or a shift in the course of a boundary stream,” according to dictionary.com

And this point was key in Rivera’s first lawsuit regarding the property against New York State in 2006, according to her attorney, Jonathan Sinnreich.

“If a hurricane were to dump a lot of sand overnight, then the state does not lose the land,” he said. “But if it expands gradually by accretion, the property owner gets it. We just want people to understand why this whole dispute exists at all.”

Sinnreich said that with the accretion of beach comes the shifting of the mean high water line — the boundary that separates public beach from private property under state law.

“And this line has shifted on several beachfront properties here, not just Rivera’s,” he said.

Despite arguments that the state did not defend their position that Rivera owns the accreted beachfront, Sinnreich provided this statement from state attorney Henry DeCotis after the first lawsuit in 2006:

“Please be advised that I have reviewed the judgment and survey map which you have recently sent me. After confiring with the Office of General Services [sic], they agree that the land in question in the above matter was formed by accretion and therefore the state has no title interest in this matter. As a result, I have no objection to the substance of the draft judgment you have sent to me and have no objection to its filing with the court in the above matter.”

“The state did not drop the ball in 2006 — they looked at the issue and agreed with our position,” Sinnreich said. “It is often misinterpreted that this beach belongs to everyone — but it doesn’t. I think a lot of people are jealous of that, and a lot of people are angry that Chris has stood up for herself.”

In 2006, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a study of the behavior of sand flow around the Mattituck Inlet. The “Section 111 Study,” (see attched PDF document), which was amended in July 2010, analyzes the affects of mining sand from neighboring Breakwater Beach, which is owned by the, and from private properties along the beach to the west of the inlet jetty — including the front yard of the Riveras — in order to fill in the eroded to the east of the jetty.

Rivera said that she was against allowing that mining, because in 1956, the Mattituck Park District mined the beach to the west of the jetty. As a result, she said, her neighborhood lost 80 feet of beach — and the Long Island Sound was at their doorsteps.

“And now they want to remove 100,000 cubic feet of beach in one shot,” Rivera said. “That would decimate our beach — and I cannot believe that the town and the park district would not be worried losing that much of Breakwater.”

And as far as this latest lawsuit goes, Rivera and her lawyer reiterate that she just wants her property rights respected.

“Who wants to sue over a rock?” Sinnreich said. “We’re not suing over a rock — were suing because her 5th Amendment rights have been violated once again. The Town came onto her property and took something without her permission. If it had been anyone else, they would have been arrested.”

Sinnreich said he expects legal counsel representing Southold Town to respond to the lawsuit by February.

Daniel Edward McGurn January 19, 2012 at 11:40 PM
It appears the eastern property line, as shown on the 2003 map, curves at the street. Yet the homeowner stands to the west of a single point, a corner monument, which is in line with a fence placed by the homeowner - but it is just to the east of the storm fencing placed by the town years ago. When was that monument installed, and by whom? When was the storm fencing placed there? Has there been any drifting/movement of the storm fencing over time? There is a discrepancy there, at the least. Is this a case of adverse possession at that corner and along the east side of the property? At any rate, accretion on the sound side is a separate issue.
Marty January 20, 2012 at 01:56 AM
A bunch of cowboys are running the show these days. It is common knowledge that if you complain to the town supervisor enough (or if you have the right connections) - whether you are right or wrong... he will take matters into his own hands and break the law (and force his employees to break the law too. I hope Scott's been saving his money!!!!
tito January 20, 2012 at 03:02 AM
doesn't southold have town trustees that govern the beaches by means of the dongan patent from 1669? also if there has been a prescriptive easement used over the land for years, the accreted/gained land should revert back to the public. another point should also be in the way her deed reads. is it a meets or bounds deed? i am not saying it is right to leave equipment on a beach but it is not fair to restrict public beach access. also, mother nature will always win.
tito January 20, 2012 at 03:08 AM
also, in east hampton town, multi millionarie beach front owners lloyd and barbara macklowe are suing eh town for the same notion of accretion in the area of georgica. it is also in court and show that this is a regional issue. if there is no stand taken now about the issue of accretion and ownership, the public's free access to its beaches will be lost due to the litigious society we live in.
Jennifer Conway January 20, 2012 at 03:38 AM
How blessed they are in their lives that they can consume so much energy, money and time over a rock. I imagine every parent out there who has a child dying of cancer wished this was their biggest problem.
Jennifer Conway January 20, 2012 at 03:45 AM
And by the way, I live on a farm. I have to share a right of way with the farmer. I have farm workers who are on my property all the time. These are things that I accept because I built my house where I did and we understand that with the pleasure of living here we must be flexible with our property boundaries.
Liliana Nealon January 20, 2012 at 11:56 AM
share the beauty of the earth, for crying out loud! I agree with Jennifer that there is so much pain in the world and we are worrying about a beach. If only people would invest their time and money in helping others!
Dorian January 20, 2012 at 12:25 PM
I am disgusted by these Rivera people!
BOB PALADIN January 20, 2012 at 01:06 PM
the riveras specious people They DO NOT OWN below the tide line state law. this is a perfect case of nimby and abuse of process. were they made to pay the court costs attributed to their latest defeat ..
indy January 20, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Actually, that is not even close to being "common knowledge". I feel it is closer to singular simpleminded knowledge.
Celia Marszal Iannelli January 20, 2012 at 01:44 PM
With two law suits and another on the way, Ms. Rivera states she is not "sue happy",, really? ummmmm....so what does she call it...? I call it the way I see it: Ms Rivera neglects to say thank you for all she forgets are gifts....
Erin Schultz (Editor) January 20, 2012 at 02:12 PM
Allison Staron said on Facebook: "Yeah right! Everyone is tired of her BS. Not for nothing, but there used to be 2 entrances/exits on either side of the guardrail at the dead end... Till they moved in and filled the path in next to their house, to make their property look bigger, like they owned it. Who the heck does she think she is? Between her and the sandpipers, theres no beach left to enjoy during the summer. Its a shame. Wish shed move away and stop disrupting everything around here."
Erin Schultz (Editor) January 20, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Anne Doherty Bialeski said on Facebook: "I was also under the impression that the town/state had regulations about how far from your property line you are allowed to install a fence, plant shrubs, or put a bolder. And apparently a decorative bolder costs a million dollars these days (and I am sure the bolder was placed there to impede access to the beach not as a decorative accent). Somethings you just have to let go and move on...not sue for every reason under the sun!"
Erin Schultz (Editor) January 20, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Denise Lechler said on Facebook: "apparently the Rivera's are a very narcissistic couple who have a very barren, miserable, and dull life. i think the taxpayers should sue THEM for wasting our money fighting their frivolous lawsuits!!"
dave allison January 20, 2012 at 09:27 PM
how dare denise what's her name make judgements about people she doesn't know Dave Allison
BOB PALADIN January 20, 2012 at 09:38 PM
hey dave based on their outrageous behavior and trying to make this a 5th amendment fight maybe based on the preponderence of evidence or lack thereof maybe based on the cost to the taxpayers [denise who i dont know] is just being kind..what is their logical normal defense do you know od can you speak for them most of us really arent tidal scholars .. whats their real beef that they have to look at an old guy or an umbrella speak up or maybe they can speak for themselves
dawn bennett January 21, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Sad sad people. I feel sorry for them.
tito January 21, 2012 at 04:58 AM
Fact, only 6% of our countries ocean front land is held in public hands. Less if they get their way. Speak up and tell your officials you support their action in protecting citizens open beach access rights.
dennis haeg January 21, 2012 at 09:15 AM
This is why God made two forks on Long Island. They clearly belong on the other one.
Concerned January 21, 2012 at 01:08 PM
I love having a water view and not the burden of owning my own beach. Having observed folks over the years that own their own beach, I liken it to the effect of the ring in the Lord of The Rings. My precious!
BOB PALADIN January 21, 2012 at 01:23 PM
concerned so well put
Erin Schultz (Editor) January 22, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Carmine Arpaia said on Facebook: "‎"sue happy" ? maybe not...desperately seeking drama and attention seems more accurate to me... To quote the Bard..methinks they doth protesteth too much..."
Erin Schultz (Editor) January 22, 2012 at 01:23 AM
Anne Doherty Bialeski said on Facebook: "not sure I would want the kind of attention they are getting, dont know them but if they were liked in their neighborhood before they certainly aren't now....they need to realize some things are just not worth putting up a stink about!"
Erin Schultz (Editor) January 22, 2012 at 01:24 AM
Lori McBride said on Facebook: "Well let's put it this way, were they born and raised here? are their families natives to the north fork? most likely NOT because real locals don't cause this much drama."
indy January 22, 2012 at 04:55 AM
I'd say the Bard said, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks.".
Donald Cocks January 24, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Only 26 comments? I think it would have been triple that but people are afraid that these people would sue them! Slime
forward thinking January 24, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Sounds like a trespasser. i guess in the total scheme of things only 26 needed to vent an opinion. Can they camp on your front lawn?
BOB PALADIN January 24, 2012 at 02:26 PM
many of us are wondering if the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one...if this is the riveras biggest problem in life god bless them and who really cares...from what i can for see this will be riverhead, commack, smithtown in just a few more years anyway so enjoy the rancor while you can and forget to enjoy life
Concerned January 24, 2012 at 02:38 PM
By bringing so much negative attention to their property, the Riveras have impaired the value of their property! So it's a lose lose, they pay legal fees and who would want a property abutting a public space that lacks privacy. What they tried to protect has in fact back fired. The morale is you always do better being neighborly than litigious.
Donald Cocks January 25, 2012 at 08:25 PM
I agree about this place turning into Astoria, You can thank Ms.Rivera for all the 2 family/2 story humongous house's on small plots that she somehow gets Town approval to build. Maybe she will get sick of the congestion and traffic and move to a town like Mattituck use to be (then she can start all over again)

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