The Conservation Commission's meeting Thursday night drew a crowd of about 80 local residents, the majority of whom came to oppose plans by Peter Noyes for Gerry Island off Little Harbor on Marblehead's northeast shoreline.
Much of the lengthy meeting was devoted to what Noyes plans to do on the island. He has asked for a permit to repair and rebuild the seawalls on the island. To facilitate that construction work, he has also applied to build a 30-foot by 60-foot pad with three-inch thick gravel for unloading boats or trucks.
Commission chairman Walter Haug, recognizing that the proposed project is “high profile” in the community, grilled Noyes on his long-term plans for the island.
Noyes, who denied that he is purchasing the island from Ted Moore's Redstone Realty, said he plans to use the island to store and maintain his 12 boats and possibly others.
He said since the project has received extensive publicity, several people have approached him with ideas of how he might develop the small island. But he has not pursued any of the proposals.
“I have no desire to cover this island with boats,” Noyes said. “Absolutely I would not do that.”
A key to the project seems to be whether Noyes is allowed to use a rock and gravel causeway that links Gas House Beach to the island. At low tide cars and trucks can cross the naturally formed causeway.
Noyes, who maintains that the island owner has the right to use the causeway, told the commission that Town Engineer Becky Curran has asked for a legal opinion on whether the causeway can be used to transport construction equipment and service his boats.
“I have no intention of having a busy highway to the island,” Noyes said. He said the use of the causeway would be infrequent.
Commission member Fred Sullivan questioned his plans for a boat yard when the island in very large storms could be eight feet under water.
“I don't see how you can realistically use that as a boat yard,” Sullivan told Noyes. “I wouldn't want a boat yard over there.”
Opponents remain skeptical about Noyes' long-range plans.
Several members of the audience were skeptical of Noyes' plans for the island. They pointed to the application's lack of specifics as suggestive that he has bigger plans for the island.
Frank McElroy, an attorney, said it is “astounding that none of the (commission's) questions were answered.”
Opponents have formed a group, called Friends of Little Harbor, and hired their own engineer, Curt Young, to provide expert advice on Noyes' proposal.
Young also complained about the lack of specifics in the proposal. And he questioned why Noyes and his engineer, Peter Ogren with Hayes Engineering, were using a 1986 survey of the island, rather than a current survey.
Noyes and Ogren repeatedly said that they are asking at this point only to repair the seawalls to “stabilize the island.” Any other plans for the island would have to be approved by federal, state and local agencies, they said.
Haug, telling the audience at one point that “my heart is with you,” questioned the need to “stabilize” the island. “Stabilization of the island is not a correct description of what you are doing. It is a misstatement,” the chairman said.
At the opening of the hearing, Haug told the audience which spilled out of the basement hearing room at the Mary Alley municipal building, that the commission is limited to acting only on the proposal to repair and rebuild the seawalls. The commission cannot consider legal or aesthetic issues, but would rule on the proposal based on the rules governing wetlands, he said.
The entire island is considered a wetlands resource area.
'Will common sense ever prevail?'
Noyes, who noted that the project would have to be approved by multiple agencies, became frustrated with the criticism of the project and of himself personally. He asked, “Will common sense ever prevail in any of this?”
After the meeting Noyes, who owns the Rockmore Floating Restaurant and the Hannah Glover, was upset at a comment by Brian Moriarty, who asked the commission if it would consider Noyes' history of disregarding legal orders. Haug said the commission has no authority to consider an applicant's personal history.
Several commission members questioned how the landing pad would be built and whether several large boulders would have to be removed, which would have to be approved by the commission. They also questioned whether several seawalls existed.
To resolve differences over the seawalls and the landing pad, the commission scheduled a second site visit to the island at 5 p.m. on May 17.
Several commission members and Curt Young with the Friends of Little Harbor will make the site visit.
At the end of last night's hearing, Noyes proposed to install a temporary wooden float and gangway to facilitate access to the island until the causeway issue is resolved.
He called the float “a friendly gesture.” But opponents objected, saying the float might hurt the lobster beds nearby.
The commission postponed ruling on that issue until its next meeting on June 9.