Dig safe: Chatham, Plum Island, and environmental laws
Yet another case is showing that there is little tolerance on Cape Cod for those who skirt environmental regulations. The question is whether the hard line taken there by local and state officials will make its way north to Plum Island, where enforcement of environmental laws has been notably more lax.
Attorney General Maura Healey and David C. Rogers, who owns property in the Cape Cod town of Chatham, reached an agreement that has Rogers paying nearly $200,000 for damage caused by construction equipment to 2,000 square feet of salt marsh lands along the shoreline and to neighboring properties.
Rogers had received permission to tear down one home and build another, along with a boathouse and a swimming pool, but he did not adhere to state and local regulations. He added to his problems by abandoning a 9,000 pound front-end loader when it got stuck in the mud. The area had to be closed off to shellfishing for a month.
“I would say it’s an egregious violation,” Chatham conservation agent Kristin Andres told the Cape Codder last year. “It’s not a whoops,” she said. “There is no ignorance here.”
“Our shared coastal areas provide important environmental resources and must be safeguarded,” Healey said in a statement about the settlement. “Our office will continue to work to enforce environmental laws and protect valuable coastal wetlands.”
Meanwhile, on Boston’s North Shore, Plum Island, which is split between the town of Newbury and the city of Newburyport, has had ongoing issues with property owners who have taken matters into their own hands to protect their homes against natural forces. Some Newbury residents built rock walls when 2013 nor’easters threatened homes in the area. The DEP sanctioned those emergency measures.
But those hastily constructed walls are causing problems. The Daily News of Newburyport reported that the walls haven’t held, and some rocks are now scattered around the beach at the low tide mark. Nothing is being done about the beach hazards, according to Mike Morris of Storm Surge, a local environmental education group. He has filed a complaint with the DEP.
If state environmental officials are considering new enforcement strategies more consistent with their actions on the Cape, they aren’t in any hurry to tip their hand. DEP declined to answer a Daily News reporter’s questions about possible moves against Plum Island homeowners.
Historically, Cape Cod towns have had low tolerance for homeowners who violate environmental regulations. Chatham acted quickly and DEP backed them up. Plum Island plays by a different set of rules. Newbury and DEP have effectively sanctioned the Plum Island homeowners’ do-it-yourself projects, including ongoing ones not prompted by storm-related emergencies, by not launching any major enforcement actions to date.
The distinction may lie in overzealous construction versus storm protection measures. But it may be difficult for the state to continue to tolerate one set of behaviors on the North Shore and another set on the Cape without more clarity on exceptions to long-standing environmental regulations.
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