, Newburyport, MA

May 15, 2013

State blocks rebuilding of Plum Island home


---- — NEWBURY — Officials of the state Department of Environmental Protection have filed a “notice of intervention” to temporarily block the building of a house on storm-ravaged Fordham Way on Plum Island.

Harry Trout, whose home had been at 36 Fordham Way, had filed tentative plans with the town’s Conservation Commission to build a house there to replace the structure that was demolished following recent storms.

But state DEP officials have availed themselves of a clause that permits the agency to intercede in the planning of construction on the vulnerable oceanside area.

Trout, reached yesterday, said, “I don’t want to comment because this is such a sensitive issue. But we will be meeting with the DEP next week, and we’ll find out if they are going to make it hard or easy to rebuild.”

The move marks what some islanders see as a change in the relations between the state agency and islanders.

This past winter, as erosion slowly ate away at the dunes along Annapolis Way, the agency came under fire from islanders who accused it of using delay tactics against homeowners who wanted to protect their beachfront houses. Then came the devastating March nor’easter, which destroyed six homes and left a half-mile stretch of beach heavily eroded and numerous homes imperiled.

After that storm, the accusations against the DEP became far more intense and heated, and drew statewide attention.

In response, the DEP allowed islanders to dump hundreds of large rocks and tons of sand along the dune with no interference. And at a public meeting that drew over 100 people, top DEP officials said they would work cooperatively with islanders to navigate the regulatory process of rebuilding homes. The meeting was held in an effort to broker a new era of closer cooperation between the state agency, town officials and islanders.

The state appears to be appealing the merits of the town’s tentative “order of conditions” of Trout’s building plans.

In a letter to Trout, state officials said, “Mass 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 statutory interests identified” in state regulations.

The letter added, “It is the MassDEP’s opinion that this project proposal and the (town’s) Order of Conditions do not contribute to the protection of the interests identified (in legislation) and that the OOC is inconsistent with the regulations.”

DEP officials said they will be on site next Wednesday morning to issue a “superceding Order of Conditions.”

The letter to Trout was written by Heidi Davis, acting section chief, Wetlands and Waterways Program of the DEP.

Town officials had encouraged homeowners to seek help at Town Hall if they had concerns about approvals and/or permissions to rebuild.

The DEP’s letter to Trout suggests that state officials will be closely monitoring any applications to rebuild on dunes adjacent to the ocean.

Doug Packer, conservation agent for the town, yesterday said, “The DEP has intervened on the Trout filing. The subject is a new home on the lot that was the site of the original house torn down after the blizzard.”

No reconstruction has been yet done to replace the six structures that were removed in the wake of storms. One house has been raised on supports with the probable intent of being moved across the street and farther from the beach.

A moratorium on building is apparently what the DEP has in mind, at least in reference to the Trout property.

The Davis letter concluded, “No activity may commence on any portion of the project site ... until MassDEP issues an SOC and all appeal periods have elapsed, or the MassDEP withdraws its appeal.”

The commissioner of the DEP, Kenneth Kimmell, appeared, at the public meeting here, to listen to Plum Island residents concerned about protecting their homes — and planning new ones if they had lost their property.

Kimmell subsequently said that residents could have limited permission to utilize sand “mining” to replenish dunes.

But in his letter granting permission, he stressed that town officials “must seek new methods” in dealing with the dunes and the structures that are built upon them.