ROCKPORT — Four boardwalks that connect private property to Cape Hedge Beach will require some changes in the near future if the homeowners want to keep them around.
The boardwalks located at 61 and 65 Thatcher Road, 3 Seaview St. and in between 5 and 7 Seaview St. are in violation of the the state's Wetland Protection Act, according to the Rockport Conservation Commission. The regulation states all structures built within 100 feet of wetlands require a permit granted by the municipality's conservation commission.
The Rockport Conservation Commission also argues these structures pose a threat to the local ecosystem, specifically the salt marshes they are built on top of.
"Boardwalks constructed/laid directly on the salt marsh may undermine the natural ability of the salt marsh to function as a barrier to coast storm waters," reads a letter the commission sent out to the owners of the boardwalks. "Weakening of these natural coastal resources increases the risk associated with storms and floods, both to the marsh itself and to bordering upland property."
Members of the Rockport Conservation Commission went before selectmen Tuesday night to communicate their proposed plans for enforcing the state regulation regarding these four boardwalks. This preliminary discussion did not result in any rule changes or plans to enact new procedures by the either the Conservation Commission or selectmen.
"In the end, we need to be good stewards in the environment." said Selectmen Chairman Paul Murphy. "But, at the same time, we recognize some of these boardwalks have been in place for 60 years. It warrants more discussion and research. Hopefully we can come to a nice agreement that will please those on both sides of the issue."
"The Wetland Protection act doesn't forbid boardwalks," said town conservation agent Geralyn Falco at the meeting. "Environmental protections allow the boardwalks if they're installed correctly."
State regulations require boardwalks to be raised above the native, non-intrusive plant life as far as it is wide. That way, surrounding vegetation will receive the necessary sunlight to grow properly. Falco said the commission will research if these raised boardwalks would actually have a positive impact on the health of the salt marsh.
Falco said she believes the years of town inaction concerning the boardwalk violations were due to a communication breakdown between the Conservation Commission and selectmen. To her, it seemed both groups thought it was the other's responsibility to begin enforcing the regulations.
"I started working here in 2005, and (the boardwalks were) an issue then," said Falco. "My predecessor also said she dealt with this issue, too, so it's been talked about for about 15 years now."
If the permitting procedures are put in place, homeowners who receive the OK from the Conservation Commission will most likely need to hire their own construction firm and environmental consultants to install a new state-approved boardwalk. The commission agreed with selectmen to look into how they could minimize costs for homeowners.
Some of the affected boardwalk owners are frustrated with the enforcement. One addressed selectmen at Tuesday's meeting, saying he believed he was being punished for something that was built many years ago.
"I know that people feel threatened by this," Falco told the Gloucester Daily Times. However, at the selectmen's meeting, she said it was her duty to protect the town's wetlands.
Falco mentioned the Conservation Commission will also look into possibly building a communal boardwalk for neighbors to use on the small parcel between 3 and 5 Seaview St., depending if the plot available for town use.
Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or email@example.com.