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Opinion: Time for Town Trustees To Uphold Public Right of Passage

Southold resident says that in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Trustees need to wake up to better shoreline management.

The Southold Town Trustees are burdened by the New York State Legislature Law of 1893, which created the Trustees, to implement  “the public right of navigation.” This charge is reinforced by numerous U.S. Supreme and state Supreme Court decisions affirming the public right to lateral beach navigation.

Yet, our Town Trustees have spent decades ignoring this legislated mandate. Our shores are littered with illegal private bulkheads and groins, footed in state and town titled land, preventing innocent public passage. The partition of the public from their right of access to the sea will intensify as the sea slowly creeps onto the land and is met with hardened walls of steel, wood, plastic and stone.

How will the Trustee’s poster girl cope when she encounters the private barricade in the picture attached to this post? (This is Peggy Stoutenburgh Dickerson's granddaughter Hailey West Stoutenburgh, then age 3). Will there be a shoreline in the near future that she will have access to? This Trustee poster proves that the Trustee’s are aware of the Public Trust Doctrine.

However, they appear to be incapable of executing its provisions.

The fundamental core of the Public Trust Doctrine is that the ribbon of land stretching around Southold Town below high water is public land and if that conflicts with a private property owner the public land rights supersede those of the private. Trustee enforcement of this law will allow stabilization of real estate expectations and decisions rather than the present policy of encouraging piece-meal variances which result in the public’s exclusion from the shore. This tenet must be the basis of any rational management action conducted by the Town Trustees.

A second factor which the Trustee’s must adopt is the acceptance of forecasted climate change and sea level rise. The public, as well as the Trustee’s, must be led to the realization that a rising sea level and episodes of storm surges are not only reshaping the shoreline, but that the landward progression of the ocean will result in private and public land submergence. Who do you sue for this property taking? The ocean?   

Superstorm Sandy has alerted us, in a big way, that our shoreline is fragile and vulnerable and needs a new focus on its management. This seems the time, for we the public, to apply pressure upon our town leaders to pursue a policy for the public good rather than serving the interests of the few who are excluding the public from their rightful access to the shore.

If you have an interest in pursuing Southold’s shoreline problems send me your e-mail cdhardy21@live.com  to be put on our occasional hotline alerting other concerned citizens. I would also recommend reading an article this month from the New York Times entitled the "People’s Beach" at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/05/opinion/beaches-belong-to-the-public.html    

— Doug Hardy, Southold

Tony Ernst December 13, 2012 at 01:18 AM
One month after Hurricane Sandy tore through our region, communities are asking questions about how we can adapt to future storms and sea level rise. Thursday at 12 Noon on WPKN 89.5FM, Francesca Rheannon talks with Nate Waiwode, a policy adviser for the Nature Conservancy in East Hampton, New York. He deals with marine coastal climate change issues and co-leads the Nature Conservancy’s state and regional climate adaptation efforts. Sustainable East End a monthly program is archived at http://eastendreport.blogspot.com

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