Belle Harbor Group Files Dune Lawsuit
A group of Belle Harbor residents is suing the Department of Parks and Recreation and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, accusing the agencies of failing to remove "overgrown and illegal dunes on public parkland," The Wave has learned.
The lawsuit, which targets a series of dunes that stretches from Beach 138 to Beach 142 Street, was filed last month in state supreme court in Queens. It alleges that Parks built the dunes in 1997 at the request of seven beachfront homeowners who also funded the project - without a permit and without consulting the public first.
The residents, James Agoglia, Carol Ellis, Arlene Jordan, Philip Kelly, Edward Murray and Robert Tyne, say they're suing on the behalf of all Belle Harbor residents and beachgoers at large because the dunes, in time, have grown in size and now limit beach access and pose a threat to human health.
The dunes make it nearly impossible for residents - especially those who are elderly, handicapped or pregnant - to access the beach, the suit charges.
"Not only do the dunes deprive the local residents, and all New York City residents, of the use and enjoyment of a designated public space, but the dunes have become a safety issue," the suit says.
The dunes are blamed for restricting emergency vehicle access, creating a place for underage drinking and attracting insects and wild animals. Wood and wire fencing used to keep people off of the dunes is almost completely buried in some sections and creates a tripping hazard, the suit says.
One complaint outlined in the lawsuit makes the point that the dunes take away from the useable portion of the beach but also has the unintended effect of highlighting the dunes' value as a natural barrier. "At high tide, the water comes up to the edge of the dunes... and there is no or very little beach for public use during high tide," it says.
In May, Agoglia led a group of residents to Rockaway's beach opening and was able to persuade representatives from Parks and the Mayor's Office as well as local elected officials to tour the dune area after the ceremony. Shortly thereafter, Parks Queens Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski told The Wave that she needed to clarify with DEC what, if anything, Parks could do there. Parks Administrator Jill Weber recently told members of Community Board 14 that the DEC hadn't advised Parks on the issue but said that was expected to happen soon. Parks declined to comment for this story citing pending litigation.
Agoglia accused Parks and DEC of delaying so that the issue goes away. "This is the time [of year] when they can remove stuff like this," he said.
A DEC spokesperson did not return a call seeking comment for this story.