After Years-Long Battle, Westhampton Beach Drops Opposition to Eruv

NEW YORK -

A long and bitter war over erecting an eruv in parts of the Hamptons has finally come to an end, with a victory for those supporting the eruv.

On Thursday evening, trustees of the Village of Westhampton Beach met and voted to drop any further legal opposition to the erection of an eruv in their village, thus ending a battle that had lasted for eight years.

In 2008, a group of Jews sought to erect an eruv in the Village of Westhampton Beach, but the Village indicated that it would oppose the eruv. The group then formed the East End Eruv Association (EEEA), and extended its proposed eruv to include Westhampton, as well as the Village of Quogue. (Westhampton Beach and Quogue are villages in the Town of Southampton; Westhampton is an unincorporated area in the Town of Southampton.)

The EEEA intended to use the existing power lines on poles belonging to Verizon and the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) as the eruv’s korahs (horizontal beams). For the eruv’s lechis (vertical beams), the EEEA would erect plastic strips on the poles. The area comprising the intended eruv design has a total of around 15,000 power poles, and all that was required for the eruv’s construction was placing the plastic lechi strips on approximately 60 of the poles.

Verizon and LIPA granted the EEEA permission to attach the plastic lechis to their power poles. However, all three municipalities – the Village of Westhampton Beach, Village of Quogue and Town of Southampton – opposed the erection of the eruv. The municipalities based their legal opposition to the eruv on their ordinances against having signs on public property – the Verizon and LIPA poles are erected on public property. The opposition was driven by some of the residents of the municipalities, including some secular Jews who formed a group called Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv (JPOE), later renamed Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton Beach. Members of JPOE argued against creating what they deemed to be a “religious boundary” in their village, saying it would violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Members of the group also said that they did not wish the village to be overrun by Orthodox Jews, whom they feared would flood the area after the erection of an eruv.

After a long legal battle resulted in victory for the EEEA, a settlement was reached several months ago with the Village of Quogue and Town of Southampton, and an eruv will be constructed in Quogue and Westhampton. Under the terms of the settlement, the municipalities agreed not to appeal the rulings and to drop the legal fight; in turn, Weil Gotshal, the law firm representing the EEEA, agreed not to pursue any legal fees from the municipalities. Otherwise, the municipalities, having lost a First Amendment case, could have been liable for Weil Gotshal’s legal fees.

In the Westhampton Beach case, a ruling was issued in 2014 in favor of the EEEA, and an eruv was erected in that village. However, the Village vowed to fight on and appeal the ruling.

Finally, several days ago, the Village of Westhampton Beach decided to end its own costly battle against the eruv, and agreed to a similar settlement with the EEEA.

On Thursday evening, the settlement was made official, as the trustees of the Village of Westhampton Beach met and voted, unanimously, to drop the Village’s legal opposition to the eruv.

In interviews with Hamodia, EEEA members expressed their satisfaction that the saga was finally over, and their appreciation to those who fought the victorious battle.

Kol Hakavod is due to Weil Gotshal’s lawyers for their dedication and excellent work on behalf of the community,” said Marvin Tenzer, a member of the EEEA who was also involved in a prolonged and ultimately successful fight more than a decade ago to erect an eruv in Tenafly, New Jersey. “We all are extremely grateful to Robert Sugarman, Yehudah Buchweitz and their team of outstanding lawyers.”

“I am pleased not only for the Jewish residents of these municipalities in the Hamptons, but for all the communities elsewhere that want to put up eruvin,” said Clint Greenbaum, a resident of Westhampton Beach. “Our case has set legal precedents that have, as our lawyers have said, ‘taken existing good eruv case law to another level.’ ”