, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 29, 2013

Process muddies erosion efforts

Questions surround permit request to complete work

NEWBURY — Plum Island residents are encountering a bureaucratic tangle as they seek to continue efforts to shore up their homes against the devastating impact of beach erosion.

A plan to file a notice of intent with the town’s Conservation Commission and state Department of Environmental Protection in pursuit of a permit for the installation and maintenance of a coir sandbag system along more than 2,000 feet of beachfront became muddled last week.

Local officials were informed that, under the current wording, the 35 affected homeowners would not be allowed to work on their own properties if the town pursues the application.

The sandbags are in place now, but still need to be completely covered with sand before exposure to the elements degrades them.

In a conference call with a representative from DEP’s northeast regional office, Newbury Conservation Agent Doug Packer, Town Administrator Tracy Blais and a representative for town counsel were told that it was “unacceptable” to have homeowners doing the work unless they — not the town — applied for the permit, also known as an order of conditions.

Local officials learned that the request would face “an extreme amount of resistance” if the town were the sole name on the application.

Packer described the conversation as “nonconfrontational” and said he believed “DEP was attempting to help us.” But at the end of the call, the state’s position was left somewhat ambiguous.

“Their final words were, ‘Do what you want to do,’” Packer said.

But one Plum Island resident was critical of DEP’s position.

“If the DEP has the audacity to interrupt people trying to protect their homes — God help them,” Annapolis Way resident Bob Connors said. “It’s continuing bad behavior from (DEP’s) northeast regional office and it’s shameful.”

Connors argued that he suspects DEP’s recommendation for individual homeowners to file separate notices of intent was influenced more by a desire for profit than for proper procedure. The state waives the filing fees for municipalities, but no such accommodations are made for private citizens, he said. And fees for these types of applications can run as high as $200 to $500, he said.

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