NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 20, 2013

Important meeting on PI project Wednesday

Newburyport City Notebook
Dyke Hendrickson

---- — A key meeting involving Plum Island is scheduled for Wednesday morning, when members of the state Department of Environmental Protection are slated to be on site to review plans for replacing a waterfront house at 36 Fordham Way.

A dwelling there was owned by Harry Trout, but it was destroyed and removed as a result of winter storms.

Trout has filed a request with town officials to build another house there but the DEP recently filed a notice of intervention regarding the application.

A memo to Trout said “DEP shall assume jurisdiction over this project and will make a determination as to whether the area on which the proposed work is to be done is significant to the interests identified in the (Wetlands Protection) Act.”

Newbury town officials have been sympathetic to homeowners along the beachfront, and after the last of the winter storms they said they would be supportive of homeowners who wanted to rebuild.

But the DEP appears to be saying that it wants to inspect the dunes and the beach before final building permits can be extended by the town.

The “notice of intervention” filed by the state could be a notification of trouble for homeowners on Fordham Way and Annapolis Way.

Top DEP leaders might be saying to town officials that replacing houses that have been lost, even if they are now elevated, does not represent a long-time solution.

The DEP has approved (on a limited basis) sand mining. But what state environmental leaders want is long-term approaches to the problem of diminishing dunes

(An aside: Your Scribe would like to report that through use of crafty - but probing - questioning, he teased out remarks from DEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmel that he might not have intended to make. But here is what the commissioner told me in a phone interview in mid-April: “I hope you can make it clear to your readers that we are willing to be flexible but we want town officials and residents to know this (sand mining) is short-term and they have got to begin working on long-term solutions right away.”)

Perhaps the DEP is suggesting that building new houses atop vulnerable dunes does not represent a long-term solution.

Or it’s possible there is a bit if payback in its determination to “assume jurisdiction.”

Without permits, oceanside residents brought in tons of boulders and mountains of sand this spring to create artificial “dunes.”

The DEP did not take issue with this unauthorized “dune creation,” and it has not been formally addressed.

But DEP officials couldn’t have been pleased with oceanfront homeowners taking major action without acquiring permits. Perhaps the DEP’s close scrutiny to building permits now is a gesture to assert its authority.

As a result of demolitions, there are three adjacent parcels on Fordham Way that are empty. And there are several parcels on Annapolis way that are similarly devoid of houses.

Also, at least six other residences perched on dunes have been deemed vulnerable.

If the DEP decides to flex its governmental muscle and take charge of the permitting process on Plum Island, it could represent a major change in the manner in which seaside construction is allowed.

On the subject of dunes, Newburyport and Newbury this spring did execute a you-rub-my-back exchange of sand.

The Charos family, which owns property at the the north end of Plum Island (Newburyport) had too much sand in the water in front of its boating operations.

Parts of Plum Island on the southern (inhabited) end of the island needed sand to refurbish dunes.

So Charos sand was sent south to needy homeowners at the other end of the island, according to a family spokesman, which sounds like at least a short-term solution to erosion challenges near the ocean.

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The following meetings are scheduled this week and are open to the public:

Tonight

Communication subcommittee of the School Committee, 5:30 p.m., room 118, high school.

School Committee, 6:30 p.m., room 118, high school.

River Valley Charter School, 7 p.m., 2 Perry Way

Tuesday

Finance Committee of the Whole, School Committee, 8 a.m., superintendent’s conference room, Low Street.

Bartlet Mall Commission, 6 p.m., library.

Moseley Woods Commission, 6 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.

Conservation Commission, 6:30 p.m., City Council Chambers.

Bresnahan School neighborhood committee, 7 p.m., 333 High St.

Wednesday

City Scholarship Committee, 6 p.m., 241 High St.

Bresnahan School Council Committee, 6:30 p.m., 333 High St.

Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, 7 p.m., City Hall.

Thursday

Budget and Finance Committee of the Whole, 6:30 p.m., City Hall.

Affordable Housing Commission, 6:30 p.m., City Hall conference room.

Special Education Advisory Committee, 7 p.m, high school library.

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Dyke Hendrickson covers Newburyport for The Daily News. He can be reached at 978-462-6666, ext. 3226 or at dhendrickson@newburyportnews.com.