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Northeastern University submits new Nahant plan to the EPA

NAHANT — Northeastern University took the next step in its quest to build a Coastal Sustainability Institute on East Point.

The school wants to build a 55,000-square-foot building at the Marine Science Center. It would be used for academic, research and meeting spaces. There is also a proposal to upgrade the school’s seawater intake system. Both proposals have been met with heavy opposition from residents.

The university filed an Environmental Notification Form (ENF) with the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) office Friday morning requesting a review of its plans. The office is part of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA).

Based on input from Nahant residents, the university made compromises to address local concerns, according to an open letter from the school to residents.

“These compromises were agreed upon in the spirit of collaboration and being good neighbors,” the university wrote in the letter. “What we cannot compromise is our commitment to a globally urgent research objective. The fate of coastal communities everywhere — including Nahant — is simply too important to jeopardize. It is our sincere belief that the revised design enables us to carry on the vital work of the Marine Science Center and continue to be a good neighbor.”

The ENF outlines Northeastern’s plans to begin construction this winter. The project is expected to be completed by the summer of 2021. In-water work is expected to occur in July 2020.

Northeastern acquired the property in 1966 from the U.S. government to create a marine research and teaching center, incorporating remnant military facilities into the campus. The existing bunker will be used as the new building’s foundation to limit the footprint and preserve open space. About 18,000 square feet would be buried underground. Above ground, more than 19,000 square feet will sit on the western side of Murphy Bunker and more than 17,650 square feet on the eastern portion.

“The proposed seawater system is an essential upgrade to the existing system and would be absolutely critical for the MSC’s research operation even if the CSI project was not being proposed,” according to the 233-page ENF.

The proposal is to upgrade to a 600-gallon-per-minute system, which is 75 percent less capacity than what the school requested last year. The existing intake pipes are significantly impacted by marine organisms, namely blue mussels, settling and fastening themselves to the interior of the pipes, which restricts the flow of water to less than 25 percent of design capacity, according to the document. The system is designed to have a flow rate of about 550 gallons-per-minute per pump, but it has been reduced to as low as 78 gallons per minute.

Pipes would extend about 400 feet from the seawall into Bathing Beach Cove. This is the same general location as existing intake lines.

Northeastern calculated that about five market-sized lobsters would be killed by the system per year. To mitigate the issue, the plan includes the construction of an onsite lobster hatchery to annually raise and release lobster larvae into the water.

A component of the project, using a portion of the seawater flow to cool or heat the new building, was removed from the proposal.

“We believe the new design reflects a consensus approach that will safeguard the unique character, beauty and natural resources of East Point,” the university wrote in its letter to residents. “That has been our goal as a valued partner in Nahant for the last 50 years, and so it will remain going forward.”

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