Massachusetts: Ruling On Erosion Control May Set Precedent
Homeowners on Cape Cod have long looked for innovative technology to protect their homes from erosion, but it looks likely that rows of timber pilings will not fit the bill, at least not ones that are packed tightly together.
That is the takeaway from the latest decision implicating a proposal made by three New Seabury homeowners who have fought for several years with their neighbors in an effort to reduce erosion of a 30-foot coastal bank and ultimately save their homes from falling into Nantucket Sound.
The application—which calls for a buried wall of coconut fiber rolls and two rows of timber pilings—has moved from a Mashpee Conservation Commission decision made some five years ago and passed through multiple channels of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection; even a number of state legislators have weighed in.
At the end of March, in the latest action in the case, MassDEP presiding officer Timothy M. Jones found that the application was “clearly prohibited by Wetland Regulations.”
He recommended that the secretary of the department vacate the application. Secretary Matthew A. Beaton has within 60 days to make a final decision.
The decision could be a landmark one. If Secretary Beacon goes along with the recommendation, it will be increasingly difficult for homeowners to construct these timber pilings as an alternative method to minimize erosion.
“This is a very important decision,” said Barry P. Fogel, an attorney who represents the neighbors of the project, residents at the Tidewatch condominium neighborhood. “If it holds up, it will prevent timber pilings that act as walls from popping up along the Massachusetts coast, at least at homes built after 1978.”
Kenneth Liatsos, Michael J. and Dawn M. Southwick, and David and Glenys Pinchin are the applicants hoping to protect their properties.
It is unclear what will happen next in the case, but it is unlikely Secretary Beaton will rule contrary to Mr. Jones as the presiding officer found a “preponderance of evidence” that the application would not comply with coastal beach standards.
At the forefront of Mr. Jones’s decision are the timber pilings, what the New Seabury applicants had continued to downsize throughout the application process, in an effort to meet standards of the 1978 Wetlands Protection Act. The applicants tried reducing the size of the pilings, increasing the gap between the pilings, and reducing the number.
Mr. Jones did not think they went far enough.
'This is a very important decision. If it holds up, it will prevent timber pilings that act as walls from popping up along the Massachusetts coast, at least at homes built after 1978.' Barry P. Fogel, Attorney
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