Two Beechhurst neighbors want to end a two-decade-old fight with the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to keep their decks, which were built over unauthorized seawalls, which they say protected their homes from Hurricane Sandy.
Thanks to their parallel 15-foot high decks, Al Risi and 90-year-old neighbor Ruth Winkle’s water-edged houses suffered only flooding damage from the storm, but were left mainly intact, they said.
But since the decks have never had the proper permit, the DEC is calling for the residents to remove them. Risi and Winkle, who lives alone with her three dogs and nursing aide, argue that taking the decks down would make the residences vulnerable to another storm of equal or greater intensity than Sandy.
“I’m only concerned about protecting my house,” Risi said. “There are thousands of people in Long Beach that have not made it back. Their houses were destroyed and they were not [given] enough money to redo it.”
Risi and Winkle built the seawalls on their properties about 18 years ago without permission from the DEC. Engineers warned Risi when he bought his nearly $1 million, three-level house in 1995 that it needed protection from the tides, so he requested a permit for the neighbors’ seawalls from the state agency. But he said the DEC didn’t respond to him when he submitted his final plans, so he went ahead with the structures, which are made of large stones slanted at an angle. The DEC later said that he had illegally landfilled the area.
A DEC representative did not return numerous emails and calls for comment on this issue.
Both neighbors have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees in cases the DEC brought against them and violations in the past 20 years. Also the agency put a lien on both houses so Risi and Winkle won’t be able to sell their properties. Risi valued his house at about $4 million now, while Winkle’s is worth about $3 million. The agency also seized nearly $100,000 in Risi’s bank account.
Risi has consulted various engineers and experts over the decades, all of whom believe that the seawall is necessary, he said. The neighbors also have support from local leaders and politicians as well.
“Given the severe damage we have seen caused by hurricanes Irene and Sandy, it’s unbelievable that DEC has refused to negotiate in this particular case, despite Mr. Risi paying hundreds of dollars in fines,” state Sen. Tony Avella said. “DEC is completely unjustified in pursuing this case.”