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Beechhurst resident fights to keep seawall

By Alex Robinson

A Beechhurst resident has been locked in a years-long struggle with the state Department of Environmental Conservation over his seawall, which he claims protected his waterfront property when Superstorm Sandy ravaged the city’s coast.

Al Risi built his seawall almost two decades ago after he first bought the property, but did so without the necessary permits.

“This house is my life and I need to protect it,” said Risi, who owns a Whitestone-based window and door selling business. “When I bought this property, it was located in a valley, without any protection from the tidal waves.”

In 2005, DEC ordered Risi to remove 80 feet of the seawall and to restore a stable shoreline where it existed prior to his work.

Risi refused and a lengthy court battle ensued.

“DEC’s goals are to restore the damage Mr. Risi caused to the marine environment as a result of his illegal fill activities and provide a stable shoreline that does not jeopardize the affected properties,” a DEC spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

In addition to disrupting the environment, DEC has argued the seawall will not necessarily protect Risi’s home as coastal flooding has more to do with how high a building is above flood levels rather than its proximity to a body of water. The DEC spokeswoman said experts from within and outside the agency have concluded that creating a stable shoreline where it used to be will protect the property from coastal erosion.

Risi, however, cited reports he commissioned by engineers and biologists, which he said showed his house would fall into the East River should he cave in to the DEC.

“If I comply with DEC’s demands, the impact on my house would be catastrophic,” Risi said.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) recently took up Risi’s cause and tried to contact DEC to broker a compromise, but has not gotten anywhere with the state agency.

“I have always been at the forefront of urging better enforcement by the state and the city of overzealous developers who construct monstrosities for their own profit, without any regard for their community,” Avella said. “But Mr. Risi simply protected his waterfront property from tidal waves.”

Risi has faced hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and has had a lien placed on his house.

His 90-year-old neighbor, Ruth Winkle has been fighting the same battle with DEC, as she also has a seawall on her property that does not have the required permits.

Both homeowners credited the fact that their houses were not severely damaged during Sandy due to the seawalls they built.

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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