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Dispute over easement delays repair of Scituate sea wall

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  May 25, 2012 02:46 PM

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Repairing the sea wall breach on Turner Road in Scituate has taken longer than expected after one neighbor refused to give the town an easement to do construction work.

But the project now is set to move ahead after selectmen voted unanimously this week to take the easement.

According to Scituate officials, who spoke about the matter at a selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, the town needs a limited easement along three properties to repair the sea wall breach, which occurred during the storm of Dec. 26, 2010.

The wall was temporarily repaired with riprap; a new wall will be installed under the guidance of the Department of Conservation and Recreation to permanently fix the breach.

Scituate hired Coastline Engineering to evaluate the sea wall breach in July of last year, and will use money from a $500,000 appropriation for sea walls in the Capital Improvement Plan to make the repair. The total cost is estimated at $550,000, with additional money coming from last year's property tax override.

The easement would allow the town to go in whenever necessary for years to conduct maintenance on the wall and on the splash pad – a 10-foot deep concrete slab placed behind the wall to ensure that splash over from storms doesn’t erode the sand on the other side.

“If we build it [the way it’s designed], we will lose other sections of wall before we lose that, unless something catastrophic happens,” said DPW Engineer Kevin Cafferty.

Although the town has done repair work to seawalls from the beach side of the wall before, and not required an easement, the splash pad and the possibility to do subsequent repairs necessitates an easement for this particular fix, town officials said.

“Because we’re using public moneys, we need permanent easement to make subsequent repairs,” DPW Director Al Bangert said. “Just as if they were putting in drainage…we would need ongoing easements to maintain it because we’ll be responsible for it forever.”

Although two of the properties owners along the beach have granted access to the town, Daniel Farrington, who lives at 117 Turner Rd., has told the town the fix would be of no benefit to him, selectmen said.

The easement would mean that Farrington could put a deck over the splash pad, but the deck would have to be removable if the town ever needed to work on it.

Even so, the recommendation is to acquire an easement of 30 feet along the length of Farrington’s property, an amount Selectman John Danehey said was substantial.

“That’s an awfully lot to be asking a property owner to give up if you’re not replacing the [entire] wall,” Danehey said. “If the wall goes, I say take the easement…but I’m concerned if I was the owner that I’m losing an awful lot of value of property rights.”

According to selectmen, Farrington initially was amendable to the idea of a limited easement during a selectmen meeting on May 8, as long as it was only for repair work and did not include public access.

The vote was delayed to see if an agreement could be worked out with the homeowner and the town. Two weeks later; however, things had not changed.

“Mr. Farrington, in his letter to the DPW, indicated that he felt that indeed the work would provide little to no benefit to his properties, and I responded to him to the effect that repairing the sea wall adjacent to his property would significantly improve the value of the property, verses today which is a stone rubble wall put in 18 months ago to hold off the sea. The temporary fix is in place, it’s by no means pretty. The fix we’ll now make will be a significant improvement in the strength of the sea wall, including face, height, and splash back area,” Bangert said at the May 22 meeting. “This will improve, at public expense, his property significantly.”

Danehey had no objections to the taking at the latter meeting, and Selectman Shawn Harris supported the decision.

Selectmen then voted 4-0 Tuesday to take the easement. According to Bangert, Farrington can't stop the work but can seek damages for loss of use of his property.

Regardless of the delay the negotiations have caused, town officials said they would proceed to go out to bid to do the work.

“Within six weeks we’ll be out there doing construction,” Bangert said.

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