Opinion

Neighborliness in Nahant

The Center yanked a plan to significantly increase seawater flow into its East Point research science facility after loud objections from town residents. Another proposal to build a research and classroom building triggered an onslaught of criticism on Feb. 15 with one resident proclaiming the time has come for the town and the Center to examine their relationship.

The rapidly-worsening relationship between the Center and its host community comes after years of neighborliness between the research facility and the oceanfront community. The Center sits on land where soldiers once marched and conducted drills in underground bunkers that housed coastal artillery and then missiles.

But Nahant’s legacy as a world war and Cold War bastion gave way to oceanic research. For many residents, the Center has been a place that is mostly out of mind if not completely out of sight — until this month.

Finding its proposals rebuffed twice in less than a month, the Center and — by extension, Northeastern University — are now in the crosshairs of a full-court press by town government to approve wetland protection zoning amendments.

Already endorsed by the Board of Selectmen, the amendments are headed for a March 30 Planning Board hearing that has unavoidable ramifications for the Center. Board of Selectmen Chairman Enzo Barile is on the record saying, “Most of that open space that is up at Northeastern, coincidentally, is wetlands.”

The amendments specify permit requirements for any work in wetlands. Presuming the Planning Board signs off on them following the March hearing, the amendments will be presented to Town Meeting for review.

Town Meeting is the annual event-not-to-miss in Nahant where town residents come together to renew acquaintances, gossip, talk politics and generally express the kind of gripes that people in any small town across America look forward to airing.

The Northeastern University Marine Science Center won’t necessarily find its way onto the town warrant but, if the back-and-forth between the town and the Center this month is any indication, the Center is going to be a favorite topic for discussion during Town Meeting.

The Center’s proposed seawater intake project and new building plans could also conceivably find their way into legal documents. After years of enjoying a relatively benign relationship with Nahant, the Center might turn to lawyers to ask why it faces such strong opposition to construction and research plans.

Or the Center might turn its gaze to Lynn and seriously entertain enthusiastic suggestions by city officials to have the Center consider Lynn’s waterfront as a more ideal site for research.

Center administrators must realize by now that the welcome mat has been yanked out from under them in Nahant, even as they wonder how a once-benign relationship quickly soured.

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