“This is about additional fees for people who are already stressed financially,” Connors said,
Selectmen discussed the town’s possible legal exposure and whether the entire project would be more vulnerable to delays or appeals if all the properties were included under one umbrella application.
Selectman David Mountain suggested that perhaps the state agency didn’t want to set a precedent for other communities by moving forward with a project that places such a large number of properties under one order.
He said the town should participate to the extent that the water and sewer infrastructure were in jeopardy, but felt it was unreasonable to be the sole applicant for work being done on private property.
“We have to represent the entire town,” he said.
Following last month’s winter storms, town officials and emergency crews helped homeowners shore up portions of Plum Island with industrial-type sandbags in an attempt to stem damage from the tides.
The cost for the work — estimated at between $120,000 and $140,000 — is being paid for by the property owners. The town of Newbury was to pitch in $10,000 for engineering costs to supervise the project and to improve anti-erosion measures.
Connors said the DEP commissioner has already weighed in on the question of whether property owners can work under an order of conditions assigned to the town when in March 2011, an attempt by the state to halt similar emergency efforts on Plum Island was successfully appealed.
The October 2011 appeals decision, which the commissioner signed off on, found that property owners were “free to undertake directly or through contractors’” the work outlined in the order of conditions, provided the work was authorized by the town and the property owners were clearly identified in the permit.
Connors argued it made sense for the town to serve as the applicant since it needs to protect its infrastructure and its tax base. The work and the liability would be shouldered by the identified property owners, who have a vested interest in making sure it gets done properly, he said.