Battle for Wading River beach heads to court

Several homeowners with property fronting Long Island Sound in Wading River have filed a federal lawsuit against Riverhead Town, claiming the town has refused to enforce trespassing laws on their property because it believes the land is publicly owned.

The lawsuit seeks at least $1 million in damages and names the town and the Town Board as defendants. It also individually names the five Town Board members and Police Chief David Hegermiller as defendants, meaning they will be personally liable if any damages are awarded.

The lawsuit was filed Amy and James Csorny, Michael and Alice Brown, Daniel and Babette Sackowitz, Carole and Kelly Eibs, Jessica Eibs-Stankaitis and John Stankaitis, all of whom own property that borders the Sound just east of the town’s Wading River beach.

“The town has neglected and refused, without just cause or excuse, to recognize or enforce plaintiffs’ property rights, and [the town] has, as a matter of deliberate policy, actively caused, encouraged, facilitated, sponsored, promoted, provoked, suffered, aided and abetted the ongoing and continual acts of trespass and encroachment upon plaintiffs’ parcels by numerous persons and motor vehicles,” the lawsuit states.

The suit is the latest in the battle between the town and the Wading River homeowners over beach rights. The town has claimed the homeowners are illegally putting obstacles on the beach that block the public’s access, while the homeowners say they have deeds showing that they own the land down to the mean high water mark, and that they have a survey showing where that mark lies.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the town has found tax maps that indicate the land in front of the homes was a town beach up until 1978, and that this information will be used in a counterclaim as the town’s defense against the lawsuit.

“We have proof that this is town land,” Mr. Walter said. “Tax maps up until 1978 showed a Town of Riverhead beach right in front of their properties.”

The maps showed the amount of beachfront land belonging to the private property owners being far less than what they now claim, he said. In 1978, some of the landowners obtained a quitclaim deed to the rest of the property from a bank many years ago, Mr. Walter said. He feels that deed was improperly granted.

The lawsuit states that Mr. Walter has “on numerous occasions, publicly stated” the beach in front of the homeowners’ houses is a public beach and that the public has a right to “encroach upon and access” the beach. The suit also claims the town has allowed people to operate motor vehicles on the property owned by the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction against the town to prevent such actions in the future, and it seeks an amount in damages to be determined at trial “but believed to exceed $1 million.”

Mr. Walter said he’s confident in the town’s position.

“They have no case,” he said.

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