2013-01-24 / News

State tells property owner to restore coastal-buffer zone

Violations stemmed from repairs following Sandy

The property owner at 1600 Highland Drive has been told by the Coastal Resources Management Council to restore a buffer that was altered during emergency repairs following Hurricane Sandy. Vegetation, as seen above, is now absent from the coastline and a seawall was built. 
PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRIS POWELL The property owner at 1600 Highland Drive has been told by the Coastal Resources Management Council to restore a buffer that was altered during emergency repairs following Hurricane Sandy. Vegetation, as seen above, is now absent from the coastline and a seawall was built. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRIS POWELL Details have emerged about steps a property owner must take to restore the coastal-buffer zone at Mackerel Cove, which was damaged during repairs to a private seawall that was marred during Hurricane Sandy.

The Conservation Commission first heard about the potential violation at 1600 Highland Drive from Wendy Waller, a concerned resident. Waller sent the panel a letter saying the property owner had obtained an emergency assent from the Coastal Resources Management Council to authorize the seawall repairs. The letter continued saying the owner went beyond the scope of the permit and cut down vegetation inside the coastal buffer zone. Waller also complained workmen had taken rocks from Mackerel Cove illegally and used the stones to rebuild the seawall.

Chairwoman Carol Trocki said at the Conservation Commission’s Jan. 15 meeting that the CRMC has ordered the property owner to return the coastal-buffer zone to its original condition. Specifi- cally, she said, the property owner has until June 1 to take down the top 3 feet of the seawall and to replant vegetation that was illegally cleared from the buffer zone.

If they don’t, Trocki said, the state will issue a cease-and-desist order.

Commissioner Ted Smayda suggested that the conservation panel should hire an engineer to monitor the repair job, but Trocki disagreed.

“That’s CRMC’s role,” she said. “That’s their jurisdiction. The town doesn’t have any real say.”

But Trocki said the conservation commissioners do have a role in educating the public about the buffer zones and in communicating with the CRMC over the enforcement issue.

Trocki said there are legitimate questions about whether the CRMC has the staff “to go out and follow up on these things.” Therefore, she said, the Conservation Commission should stay abreast of the situation.

Commissioner Michael Brown asked if the coastal council had assessed fines for the damage to the coastal buffer. Trocki said the property owners have only been asked to make the repairs, but her reply led to questions about what actions the commissioners would take if the Mackerel Cove property owners should fail to make the repairs by the June 1 deadline.

“Our role is strictly advisory,” Trocki said. She added the local conservation board doesn’t have any enforcement authority in such cases, but it can ask the CRMC to follow up with enforcement. Meanwhile, everyone has to wait until June 1 and give the property owners a chance to comply with the order.

“We give these guys a chance and see what they do,” Brown said, but agreed the panel could in the meantime send a letter to the council.

“One of the concerns is the CRMC is not enforcing and following up,” Commissioner Maureen Coleman said. But instead of criticizing it, Coleman said, the Conservation Commission could send a letter to the coastal council, “Thanking them for issuing the violation and then—,” she paused.

“Stick with it,” Commissioner Kate Smith offered, meaning the Conservation Commission should urge the council to keep up with site monitoring and enforcement.

Coleman put the suggestions in a formal motion to send a letter “thanking CRMC for issuing the violation, stressing our concern and asking them to be vigilant and enforcing it, plus our standard language about the cumulative impact of multiple violations.” The panel also decided to copy the town councilors, the property owner and Waller.

In other business, the conservation commissioners said private docks are becoming a problem in Jamestown, and islanders should consider other options like dock sharing to minimize the damage to the seascape.

“Does everybody need a dock?” Trocki asked.

Trocki said the CRMC has in the past proposed dock sharing, and now might be a good time to rekindle interest in the initiative following news about a plan to build a long private dock at 24 Bridgeview Drive.

Norman and Jocelyn Bernson have asked the CRMC for permission to build a dock extending 124 feet seaward of the mean low-tide mark.

“It seems really long,” Brown said. He surmised the length refl ected the fact the water at the edge of their property was too shallow for a dock.

Trocki said the Bernsons asked the coastal council for a 74-foot variance. The state stature says 50 feet is the allowed length. The 124 feet apparently was needed “to get out into deep enough water and to get out past the eelgrass beds.”

The Conservation Commission cannot stop the dock, said Trocki, because CRMC has jurisdiction and will decide whether or not to grant the variance.

Coleman said the state restrictions on docks are specific, but nonetheless property owners have successfully applied for variances to build nonconforming private docks.

“Everyone wants a dock,” she said, adding that everyone seems to get a variance.

“This is variance island,” Smith declared.

Coleman is concerned the dock could set a precedent and open the door for many more private docks to be built over shallow water.

Brown said he did not have a frame of reference to assess the length of the private dock relative to all the others, and Trocki agreed the panel didn’t have enough information to comment on the particular case. She said the panel needed to do more research before taking any position on the proposed dock at 24 Bridge View Drive.

But Trocki said the “proliferation of docks and cumulative impact” on the coastline is a topic commissioners have addressed before, and now might be the time to take a more “holistic approach.”

Peter Fay, who attended the meeting, said the docks could potentially impede waterfront access for walkers, boaters and kayakers. Trocki said state regulations on dock construction deal with access issues, but all docks do not comply with the regulations.

The commissions will continue discussing the issues about private docks at an upcoming meeting.

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