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Debate over Nissequogue homeowners’ proposal to build sea wall

Nissequogue Village homeowners are seeking permits to build

Nissequogue Village homeowners are seeking permits to build a sea wall on Long Island Sound bluffs below their house, left. Credit: Google Maps

A Nissequogue Village couple is seeking permits to build a set of sea walls off Long Island Sound bluffs below their home, but some local officials say the project would violate policies intended to protect the region’s shared coast.

Homeowners Gloria Trillo and Alan Stange, an employee of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, according to his LinkedIn page, lost most of the bulkhead that had protected their $8 million Triple Oak Lane property in a January nor’easter. Without it, they have lost 16 feet of land near the toe of the bluff and up to five feet at the top, said Adon Austin, their engineer, at a Nissequogue Village hearing last month.

He proposes to solve his clients’ problem by building two 213-foot tiered sea walls rising roughly 18 feet over the beach, buttressed by fill and three-ton boulders.

Bluffs like those in Nissequogue, which may reach more than 50 feet in height, protect settled areas behind them and feed the beaches in front by their erosion. They are considered vital natural protective features under New York State coastal management policies, which restrict building on or next to them and provide for local and state review of building proposals in the area.

Nevertheless, about a dozen out of 50 Nissequogue Village waterfront properties are armored, worrying environmentalists who say the practice harms the coast and encourages neighbors to harden their own properties.

Kaylee Engellenner, chairwoman of the Joint Coastal Management Commission, a local planning body serving Nissequogue and Head of the Harbor, wrote that the project’s potential to contribute to the “starvation” and “accelerated erosion” of neighboring beaches, among other reasons, made it inconsistent with policies adopted decades ago to guide development and preservation of the waterfront.

Glenn Gruder, an attorney for the homeowners, has appealed to the Nissequogue Village Board to overturn those findings as it has done in some sea wall cases in the past. The board could vote on the appeal as early as May 15.

But permission for Trillo and Stange’s walls could be complicated by the precise location proposed for the lower tier. Because it would be below the mean high water mark, according to plans submitted to Smithtown Town, town officials say it would fall under town jurisdiction, which extends from that mark into the Long Island Sound.

Town Planner David Flynn wrote in a March letter to New York State that the project would likely be inconsistent with a number of town policies, not least because “the public has the right, as conveyed from the King of England and held in trust by the State of New York and Town of Smithtown, to access all land between the high water mark and low water mark of the Long Island Sound.”

While Gruder disputes the town’s jurisdiction, Nissequogue Mayor Richard Smith said it would be “difficult” for him to permit the walls Gruder’s clients have proposed. “It’s a simple doctrine that the public has a right to traverse up to the high water mark,” he said.

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