That same seawall has been at the heart of an 18-year-old disagreement between Risi and the state's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which has fined Risi $150,000 stating the seawall illegally encroaches into the sound and demand that he remove it.
“This is all about protecting my home, not damaging the environment,” Risi said while standing in his backyard last week. “I had no intention of harming the environment.”
When Risi bought the home in the 90s, he said it sat on a sort of cove because the properties on either side extended out into the water. Garbage would collect in the cove, but even worse was the constant erosion that brought the sea closer and closer to his home.
An engineer told him that he should build a seawall. So Risi says he took rocks from the demolition of the Saw Mill River Parkway and built out his property to be in line with his neighbors.
Risi says the dispute with DEC stems from a mistake on the original plans he submitted to the state that resulted in an inappropriate permit being issued for the construction. DEC wants Risi to remove the fill and rocks so far back that he would be left with just a 20-foot property line.
Risi was joined by State Senator Tony Avella last week to call on DEC to let the seawall remain.
“When it comes to development, I usually come down on behalf of the state,” said Avella. “But this is not only excessive, it's overzealous.”
Avella said the seawall not only protected Risi's home during Sandy, but his neighbors as well.
“It's actually an improvement to protect not only his house, but all the others in line,” said Avella. “We live in a different time, weather-wise. If this had happened post-Sandy, I bet DEC would have a different approach.”
The $150,000 fine was handed down in 2005, and carries with it an annual interest rate of 9 percent for every year it goes unpaid. Recently, the state seized $95,000 worth of Risi's assets. The homeowner says he is getting older, and would like the option of selling the house, but can't because the state has also placed a lien on the property.
As a compromise, Risi said he would consider paying the fine with interest, but in exchange wants to keep the seawall.
“I'm not willing to jeopardize my home,” he said. “Paying the fine would still be a hardship, but I'm willing to do it to protect the home.”
Up to this point, DEC has refused to compromise with Risi, and has refused to meet with Avella on the issue. A DEC spokesperson did not answer several requests for comment.
“DEC has refused to talk to either one of us,” said Avella, “demanding that Mr. Risi take out the seawall, leaving his home exposed to the unpredictable waters.”