By Stephen J. Kotz
With a packed house in attendance, the North Haven Village Board on Tuesday tabled a hotly contested erosion-control law until it can create a subcommittee made of village officials, property owners, and other interested parties to try to hammer out a compromise.
A group of residents, most of whom live along the bluffs lining North Haven’s western shoreline, have opposed the law, which they say will make it next to impossible for them to undertake any shore-armoring efforts or join together to sponsor joint projects aimed at protecting a broader swath of shoreline.
While the new law does not strictly outlaw shore-armoring projects, it would require that homeowners make a case to the village board that their property was uniquely threatened. As part of the process, the village would have its environmental consultants, the Woods Hole Group, review the suitability of any proposal, whether it be construction of a rock revetment, wooden bulkhead, or vegetative plantings.
“As soon as possible, in August, we’ll schedule another meeting with Woods Hole and hopefully all of you again” Mayor Jeff Sander told the gathering. The mayor said he hoped that Lee Weishar, the village’s environmental consultant on the new law, would be at that meeting, although he did not set a date for it. In any event, he said, the village would not adopt a new law until its September 6 meeting at the earliest.
Brian McIver, the president of the North Haven Point Association, welcomed the offer to revisit the matter. “I was concerned when I got involved in this,” he said, “that this had reached the point of an adversarial relationship.”
A working committee would go a long way toward smoothing things over, he said, adding, “the people on the bluff certainly have an interest in protecting their property.”
Ed Stern, a resident of On the Bluff, a street lined with houses perched high over Noyac Bay, has been a persistent critic of the proposed law. On Tuesday, he said he hoped the committee would address a major concern.
He said he opposed a section of the draft law that requires an applicant show an imminent threat “to upland structures” before being allowed to do any work that would result in armoring of the bluff. “I’d hope you’d consider threats to property, threats to property in general,” he said, adding that lots where the bluff has begun to erode will need attention long before any house is threatened.
“Our intent was we weren’t going to allow your property to disappear until your house is threatened,” responded Mayor Sander.
“You have an obligation to be concerned with that as a board,” rejoined Mr. Stern.
Aram Terchunian, a coastal geologist, whose company, First Coastal, has represented Mr. Stern and a number of his neighbors, repeated his concern that the village’s new law was not based on specific general standards. He suggested in the new erosion-control law that the village use protection against the kind of damage caused in a once-in-50-year storm as its does with its dock law.
He also said the law does not seem to favor hybrid erosion projects that combine beach plantings with some armoring. In many cases, he said, “hybrid is really the only thing that fits the bill.”
The board also heard from attorney Stephen Angel, who represents Jeff Friedman, whose application filed in 2012 for a shore-arming project led the village to propose its new law. Dr. Friedman, he said, was still waiting for a decision on his application.
Although most people opposing the law live on the western side of North Haven, attorney Dennis Downes said he represented three property owners who live on the east side of the village. Although Super Storm Sandy did not cause major damage on the western shore, it did pose problems on the eastern shore, he said, urging that any law to focus more on the threats to the east shore.