, Newburyport, MA

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May 3, 2014

Beacon Hill Steps In

Lawmakers poised to allow landmark marsh boathouse to be demolished, replaced with home

BOSTON — For years, the run-down wooden boathouse off Plum Island Turnpike, with its sagging roof and salt-weathered shingles, has warned motorists heading to the island there is “no evacuation possible” in a nuclear disaster.

But the old Newbury boathouse could finally have a date with the wrecking ball, under legislation approved Thursday by the Massachusetts Senate.

Owner Jack Van Loan wants to demolish the 57-year-old structure at 41 Plum Island Turnpike and replace it with a single-family house. Massachusetts Environmental officials have blocked his plans, saying the project would destroy state-protected salt marsh.

The legislation, which must still be approved by the House, allows the structure to be torn down and a new house built on the site. Van Loan will also need the consent of the town’s zoning board.

“I’m just trying to get it rebuilt and I’ve run into roadblocks all along the way,” said Van Loan, a carpenter, who said he bought the property in 1987 for $52,000 for use as a workshop. “There doesn’t seem to be any concern for property rights.”

The boathouse, built in 1956, is known to most for the large, red-lettered sign that hung from its roofline for decades reminding people on their way to Plum Island that the island could not be quickly evacuated in the event of an emergency at the Seabrook nuclear power plant. Van Loan is an environmentalist and opponent of the power plant.

Plum Island Turnpike provides the island’s only vehicle and pedestrian access and egress.

Van Loan said he took the sign down because he felt the political message might hurt his chances of getting approval from the legislature. If he builds the house, he said he might incorporate a similar anti-nuke sign in the design.

Newbury officials ordered the building demolished in the spring of 2008 but later gave Van Loan a reprieve when he agreed to stabilize the structure. It was sinking into the marsh because the pilings supporting it were buckling.

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