Nahant residents file suit against Northeastern University

The Northeastern Marine Science Center in Nahant. (Spenser R. Hasak)

NAHANT — Twenty-eight residents and a Nahant nonprofit have filed a lawsuit alleging Northeastern University cleared an access road through a wildlife preserve without authorization.
In a 36-page civil complaint filed in Essex County Superior Court Tuesday, the plaintiffs claim Northeastern “shocked the public’s conscience by us- ing heavy construction equipment to clear cut an access road through the Ecological Preserve on the top of East Point, partially destroying an irreplaceable 50-year-old wildlife preserve and migratory bird habitat, and causing irreparable harm to land which has been dedicated to public use and open space.”
The residents include Christian Bauta, Tess Bauta, Elizabeth Berman, Ann Bromer, Candace Cahill, Michelle Capano, Alice Cort, Mark Cullinan, Carl Jenkins, Marilyn Mahoney, William Mahoney, Dan McMackin, Diane Monteith, Andrea Murphy, Jeffrey Musman, Patrick O’Reilly, Marie Eliabeth Pasinski, Roger Pasinski, Vi Patek, Linda Pivacek, Emily Potts, Laura Poulin, Peter Rogal, Peggy Silva, Susan Solomon, Paul Spirn, Donna Steinberg, and Jim Walsh.
But Northeastern filed its own suit in land court three weeks ago after receiving a letter from the residents threatening to sue the university. The letter allegedly claims that property owned by Northeastern was dedicated to the town and is public land that the school cannot develop without a two-thirds vote of the legislature.
Northeastern has proposed a 60,000 square foot Coastal Sustainability Institute building with academic, research, and meeting space and additional parking. They also plan to upgrade an existing seawater intake system. The proposal has been met with heavy opposition from the town’s residents.
The university denies the claim that it made a dedication of its property to the town.
“To protect its interests, and to minimize protracted and costly litigation, Northeastern is seeking a declaratory judgement in Massachusetts Land Court,” said Renata Nyul, vice president of communications at Northeastern. “While this process takes place, the university will continue to work with town officials to develop a mutually agreeable plan that allows the university to enhance its important coastal sustainability research, while preserving the unique vitality and character of Nahant.”
But Nahant Preservation Trust, Inc., a not-for-profit charitable corporation that works to preserve the town’s open spaces, historically significant properties, and conservation lands for public and community benefit, and 28 citizens say this hasn’t been the case.
Heavy construction equipment was used to clear the access road days after the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA) conducted a site visit and extended its comment period
for the project, according to the civil complaint obtained by The Item.
On June 28, Conservation Commission chair Kristin Kent said she learned the clearing had commenced and visited the site. She reportedly instructed Northeastern University to stop work pending a determination of the legality and scope of the work involved and issued an enforcement order.
“The clearcutting of vegetation and soil that has already taken place has severely injured the ecology of this public preserve,” the complaint reads. “Any further alteration of the Ecological Preserve must be enjoined pending a determination of the project’s environmental and historical impacts and its legality and completion of all applicable state and local approval processes.”
The plaintiffs allege the university has violated MEPA regulations by proceeding with clearcutting notwithstanding that the environmental review process had just begun, and that it violated the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act by clearing, altering and drilling in land subject to coastal storm flowage without filing a notice of intent and obtaining an order of conditions from the Nahant Conservation Commission.
The lawsuit seeks a court order barring Northeastern from further clearcutting the forest and meadow at East Point.
“It is disheartening that Northeastern University chooses not to respect the wishes of the community and not to honor its decades-long commitment to preserve East Point as a wildlife preserve, to benefit both the natural environment and the public,” said Jeffrey Musman, a member of the Nahant Preservation Trust. “Northeastern could remedy this by coming up with an alternative plan for its institute, one which would prove satisfactory to both the university and the public.”

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