Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center has coexisted with Nahant for more than 50 years, rarely drawing attention to its East Point operations except for periodic visits by school groups.
That half century of quiet coexistence ended when the Center announced plans to build a 55,000 square foot Coastal Sustainability Institute. The proposal ramped up protests by grassroots group Keep Nahant Wild, and signs and flags denouncing the project sprouted up around Nahant.
Beginning Monday, the battle over the expansion project shifted from the town to the state when Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act officials came to Nahant to review Northeastern’s plan.
It is ironic that an educational institution dedicated to studying the marine environment is in the crosshairs of critics who have labeled the Center’s expansion an environmental threat.
State experts have plenty of information to sort through as they weigh the expansion project’s potential environmental impacts and assess steps required to minimize those impacts.
In addition to constructing a new building, Northeastern’s plan calls for extending pipes into Bathing Beach Cove in order to significantly upgrade the existing seawater intake pipe system serving the Marine Science Center.
Blue mussels, according to the 233-page environmental form filed for the expansion project, are clogging up the existing pipes and reducing how much water can flower through them.
Improved pipe flow is ” …absolutely crucial…” for research at the Marine Science Center, according to the environmental form. But the pipe system not only draws in water, it also pushes it back out into the ocean.
When Northeastern unveiled expansion plans, local commercial lobstermen pounced on the pipe system proposal and said the warm water it would return to the ocean threatens lobsters.
Northeastern countered by offering to include a lobster hatchery in its plans as a way to help sustain the lobster population. Comments on Northeastern’s plans must be sent to state officials by July 1 and Keep Nahant Wild members are prepared to give the state an earful on the project. In a letter sent to residents, the organization threw everything but the kitchen sink at Northeastern. They claimed the expansion project would destroy East Point’s wildlife habitats and compromise the town’s aging water and sewer infrastructure.
Right now it seems there is no end to the controversy over the Center’s plan. Here’s hoping the state environmental review can at least shine a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.