CHATHAM – For the second time in less than three years, a group of residents has formally appealed the conservation commission's approval of a revetment along the town's eastern shoreline.
Ten residents, including former conservation commission members and the town's former conservation agent, objected to the approval of a 40-foot rock wall at 602 Old Harbor Rd., an extension of a previously approved 140-foot revetment. In a July 10 appeal letter to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Southeast Regional Office, the group asserted that the extension is not necessary to protect the home on the property and does not meet performance standards in the Wetlands Protection Act designed to protect coastal beaches and banks.
The commission's approval, the letter states, “contained plainly wrong factual findings, disregarded uncontroverted evidence and misapplies and/or misinterpreted applicable laws.”
The 2.2 acre property on Chatham Harbor, just north of the Cow Yard town landing, is owned by North Chatham Realty Trust. Trustee Christopher Janien is a current member of the conservation commission. He declined to comment on the appeal, saying he was in the process of hiring an attorney.
Under DEP regulations, any 10 residents can appeal a local conservation commission decision to the agency. The unusual action most recently occurred in Chatham in 2014, when 10 residents appealed the commission's approval of a 108-foot revetment at 498 Shore Rd. DEP also appealed the decision. After the agency overturned the commission's approval, denying the revetment, owners James and Lisa McGonigle filed an adjudicatory appeal, which was denied by an administrative judge last April.
Janien first proposed a 200-foot revetment to protect the seven-bedroom house on the property, assessed at $2.9 million, more than a year ago. The property also contains a guest house, and English bowling green and a shed. The conservation commission filing at the time stated that the property has undergone extensive erosion in the past five years. The house is more than 100 feet from the edge of the coastal bank.
The commission held numerous hearings, from which Janien recused himself, before approving a compromise, agreed to by abutters who had objected to the initial revetment. The approved plan allowed a 140-foot revetment running from the southern property line north. In June a second application was filed seeking approval to extend the revetment 40 feet to the north. It was approved in June, with the commission finding that the extension was necessary due to the deterioration of North Beach Island, which provides protection from ocean waves. The commission also found that the request was time-sensitive in order for the construction to coincide with the previously approved revetment.
“The disturbance to the resource area will be less if the structures are constructed in unison,” the decision stated.
In the appeal, the group of residents wrote that no evidence was offered that the extension would protect the main house, but would instead protect the bowling green and shed, the latter of which could be moved. Neither is considered a “building” afforded protection under the Wetlands Protection Act, they stated. In the hearings, Janien had said he did not want the bowling green to be considered in the decision making process.
The group also said the assertion about the breakup of North Beach Island ignored a recent study by Mark Borelli of the Center of Coastal Studies, commissioned by the Pleasant Bay Alliance, which concluded that the barrier beach would continue to provide a buffer for the inner shoreline for many years. They also cited a memo from Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon which disputed the assertion by the property owner that 56 feet of beach had been lost in a single storm. That figure was based on measurements taken in two different locations, Keon's memo stated.
In its decision, the commission said Keon's memo failed to consider the “dramatic changes relating to the barrier beach and the danger these changes pose to low-lying coastal properties on this section of the east coast of Chatham.”
The appeal further states the coastal bank is a source of sediment for nearby beaches, which the revetment will keep from serving as storm damage prevention and flood control, in violation of the wetlands law.
Kristin Andres, a signer of the appeal and the town's former conservation agent, said the group felt that the decision was made in error and wanted DEP to weigh in on it.
“It's troubling to know that the staff had commented that the building was not in danger,” she said. “Especially since the conservation commission issued a permit for the shorter revetment, then disregarded the reasoning for that when approving the extension.”
DEP typically holds an on-site hearing after a conservation commission decision is challenged. As of Tuesday an on-site had not been scheduled on the Janien appeal.
Along with Andres, residents who signed the appeal were former conservation commission members Paul Chamberlin, Stephen Kuzma, Billie Bates, Robert Lear and Jane Harris, along with former Selectman and Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates member Ronald Bergstrom, residents Eunice Burley, Michael Brown and Robert Zaremba. Several of the signers were among the group of 10 residents who appealed the McGonigle decision.