“On my fiftieth birthday, my husband gave me a signed purchase and sale agreement for land on the water…” Thus began Laurie DaRosa’s comments about how she and her husband, Daniel, came to purchase the parcel on Goodspeed Island, a location she said was the culmination of years of hard work and the fulfillment of their dreams.
DaRosa was speaking to approximately 200 residents who packed the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Chapter 91 public hearing held in the cafeteria at Old Hammondtown School on April 16, at the request of the Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen. She told them that her family’s plan had always been to build a pier from their home out into the harbor “for our grandchildren to run on.” She said, since applying for various permits (Army, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, DEP, Chapter 91, and the Mattapoisett Conservation Commission), she and her husband have had their good name negatively affected by harsh media coverage and by unwelcoming residents.
DaRosa said that when her husband was introduced to another resident during a benefit event in town, the reaction was, ”Oh, you’re the guy who wants to build the dock,” and not, “Thank you for your donation.”
“We have always been kind, generous, giving people,” DaRosa stated, asserting they have taken great pride in all the properties they have owned. She also stated that the property was littered with trash when they first acquired it and questioned why the Town had not cared before then about the conditions on Goodspeed Island.
Next, the public was invited to speak by DEP officials Carlos Fragata, Waterways Regulations Program environmental analyst, and David Hill, DEP environmental engineer.
The overriding concern of the public in attendance was the proposed size of the pier. It took two and a half hours for those comments to be aired.
Representative William Straus was the first to speak after Mrs. DaRosa’s impassioned opening statement.
“This isn’t about you,” Straus said to the DaRosas. “It’s about the harbor … what it means to the people.” He said the outpouring of public sentiment against the pier pointed to the importance of the harbor to all the people and not just a single family. He said to the two DEP officials, “The ability to travel over waters unimpeded depends on the Commonwealth to protect…” He concluded his comments by saying decisions of this sort should “tilt in favor of public use…. This pier should not be licensed under Chapter 91 … it is too large an impact.”
There were supporters of the DaRosas present. Coming forward in support of the pier’s construction was Anthony Campbell, 3 Goodspeed Island. He said, due to the extremely shallow waters in front of the Darosa property, swimming and other water activities were almost never something that he witnessed. He suggested everyone get in bathing suits and experiment to see just how shallow the water was in that location. He said the need to preserve the location for public recreating was not factual. He was not alone in that conclusion.
The DaRosas’ attorney, John Gushue, provided technical printouts and correspondence sent to the DEP last October that supported the project.
In an email printout dated October 21, 2014, Conservation Commission member Mike King wrote, “There are those that would have you believe that this project will infringe upon the right of the public to enjoy the harbor, that it will negatively impact the ability of average citizens to recreate on the harbor … that the area proposed for this pier is of high recreational use and it will prevent them from their enjoyment of this area.” He continued, “I submit to you that this is false testimony.” He went on to describe the shallow water issues he associated with poor recreational quality and concluded it was his belief that the project should be permitted.
Also supporting the DaRosas’ proposal was F. Mitchell Suzan, Jr. of 8 Main Street via written comment.
“In my opinion, the opposition to the DaRosa pier is shamelessly trying to manipulate the permit process by making trumped-up claims of impact from the pier, but it’s really about change and people just don’t like change … plain and simple,” wrote Suzan.
On the other side was the response from the public and some town officials who provided their own technical reasons why the application should be reviewed further to expose any perceived negative impact from the pier construction, as well as personal reasons why they think the pier will be a detriment to the public’s use of the harbor.
Speaking against the issuance of a permit was BOS Chairman Paul Silva and Selectman Jordan Collyer. Silva noted, of the 23 miles of shoreline in Mattapoisett, only half of one mile was open to the roughly 7,000 residents of the town; the remaining 22.5 miles was in private ownership. Collyer said that the DaRosa location was perfect for teaching children about water sports, specifically because it was shallow most of the time.
William Madden of G.A.F. Engineering questioned the Zoning Board of Appeals decision to deny the project because it found the DaRosa property was not directly on the waterfront but instead was one lot back from the beach.
Madden said the DaRosas have an easement, but that easement specifically called for approval from local agencies. He said bylaws require accessory structures to be on the same property, not traversing easements. He said the ZBA misunderstood that point. He also pointed out what he called “deficiencies” in engineered drawings presented to the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Other town-appointed and elected officials coming out to ask the DEP to decline permitting of the project were Ray Andrews of the Assessors‘ Office, Water/Sewer Superintendent Nick Nicholson, Shellfish Officer Kathleen Massey, former Harbormaster Horace Field, and Robert Moore of the Mattapoisett Marine Advisory Board.
Of the residents speaking against approval, all conveyed the importance of the area in front of the DaRosa property as a place where the public used small watercraft, went shellfishing, and generally enjoyed water activities. Many said a smaller pier would not be met with dissent.
Brad Hathaway of Aucoot Cove said at the end of a long evening of residents giving voice to their concerns, “I have never sailed in the harbor, I have never swum in the harbor, I have never fished in the harbor,” but approving the pier, he said, would set a precedent in other areas and therefore, “You’ve got to say no.”
Fragata then asked the DaRosas if they wished to offer any rebuttal. Gushue declined the offer in favor of responding to each written statement submitted to the DEP during the public comment period in writing.
Fragata told the assembled that the public comment period closes at the end of the business day on May 6. He said each person submitting a letter would receive a response with the DEP’s decision. He also said anyone wishing to appeal the DEP decision would have had to submit a letter of comment during the public comment period.
Letters may be sent to: Carlos Fragata, Environmental Analyst, DEP Waterways Regulation Program, MA Dept. of Environmental Protection, 20 Riverside Drive, Lakeville, MA 02347.
All correspondence should also include RE: Waterways No. W14-4226, Timber Pier, 3 Goodspeed Island, Mattapoisett.
By Marilou Newell