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A Line in the Sand – Simply a Matter of Respect

Snow Fence

Photo: John Betsch, Long Island Sound

A November 23rd Suffolk Times on-line article by Beth Young, entitled “Fence is Mattituck Woman’s Line in the Sand”, with its forty-four posted comments and innuendo placed by anonymous people hiding behind pseudonyms, rattled my cage. The same article appeared in the November 25th print edition entitled “Neighbors: It’s a Fence Too Far”.

While it might have been an interesting story for readers, it does not tell the complete story.

Living next to a Town Beach, I feel somewhat qualified to address the issues discussed.

Living next to a public beach has many privileges. We get to enjoy watching the many families that come for a summer afternoon with all their trappings and toys. Early evening will bring the sunset watchers with their cameras and occasional glass of wine to view the setting sun across the Sound – as each sunset is more spectacular than the next. And there are always the beach glass hunters scouring the sand.

But living next to a public beach also has its issues. There are those who feel its fine to swim in their underwear or without. There are those who feel the parking area is perfect for testing their driving prowess, practicing figure-eights for their hopeful appearance at the Riverhead Raceway. There are those who need to demonstrate their machismo by attempting to drive onto the beach, usually late into the night, and always getting stuck. There are those afternoon and evening rendezvous’ and of course the late night drinking meets of those not old enough to drink legally.

At each end of most Town Beaches, Southold Town DPW places a small sign stating: “End of Public area.” It’s there for a reason!

But, there are those who always find it necessary to go to the wrong side of that sign to squat on private property – even when the beach is empty. I often wondered why? Is it jealousy? Is it because most private waterfront owners tend to their property, grooming and removing both man made litter and flotsam/jetsam? Is it because people like to push the limits? Or, is it that they feel it’s their right? There are those who enjoy walking their dog on private property, of course not abiding the Town’s Pooper-Scooper law. Why should their dogs poop on their own property! And there are the occasional – and it’s important to say occasional – fisherman who leave their empty bait containers and beer bottles when they leave. It is these same fishermen who also put some of their catch in their vehicles while continuing to fish – for a reason.

In the past the Town installed snow fencing to delineate the outer edges of this Town owned asset but stopped that practice to reduce workload – but implementing a procedure for homeowner fence installation ability. A Trustee permit is necessary and that permit was granted to the owner in the Suffolk Times story. They abided by the terms of the permit as required by the Trustees.

In most cases, waterfront property owners by deed own to the Mean High Water Line (MHWL). This is where the problem begins. Most who feel “it’s their right” to trespass either do not understand or agree with that principle. It is not the “Seaweed Line” as many assert in those anonymous postings. That is what is called a “wrack line,” and on wave dominated shorelines, like the LI Sound, the last high tide wrack or swash line is dependent on the wave climate much more than the tidal phase.

The MHWL is average of all the high water heights observed over the last “National Tidal Datum Epoch” measured by NOAA and usually defined as a 19+ year average where phases of the moon occur on the same days of the month as they did at the start of the cycle. It is the average of all high water elevations observed over that period of Tidal Epoch. It is NOT the seaweed line. In the case of Mattituck, NOAA has three Bench Mark Stampings to record MHWL as well as other data of record.

It is really unfortunate that most who question the property line in the above referenced online article needed to do so while hiding behind pseudonyms with comments like “It’s a shame that the rich think they own the beach” (Salamiboy) or “…if I wanna walk the shoreline in front of ur [sic] house, u [sic] shouldn’t say boo to me lady, grow up….” (Carpediem). You can read these comments for yourself by scrolling below the article at at: http://suffolktimes.timesreview.com/2010/11/4153/fence-is-mattituck-womans-line-in-the-sand/)

Only a Mr. John Cleary and George Lamoga choose to put a face/name with their statements at a recent Town Board meeting and I applaud them for that. Unfortunately, most of what Mr. Cleary stated was in error – a complete misunderstanding of a Tidal Epoch and also referencing a NJ case (City of Long Branch v. Jui Yung Liu (A-0237-06T2) which has no applicability.

Carol Ann Witschieben, a Mattituck resident, summed it up completely in the December 2 edition of the Suffolk Times, in a definitive letter to the editor (half way down the page MATTITUCK Time to move on”), from which I quote:

Under state law, waterfront property owners own to the mean high tide mark. Get over it. Move on and enjoy all the many benefits of living in beautiful Southold Town.

From my perspective, it really all boils down to A Matter of Respect – for people and property.

John Betsch

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