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Gazebos & Gotcha

By George Bachrach, ELM President

The following article appeared in the Boston Globe on February 1, 2010. 

Brian McGrory is a very good columnist. But the recent column ("Structural Failing" Metro p. 1, 1/27/10) is both unfair and frustrates and demoralizes good government employees and environmental advocates.

In his column, McGrory suggests that MassDEP and Mass. Sec. of EoEEA Ian Bowles relentlessly ordered a family to tear down a simple gazebo, built without permits on the Westport river. The column turns this into a personal tragedy noting the husband and wife who owned the property both died of cancer, harassed by the state. The state is clearly the hard-hearted villain. During this time of fiscal crisis and budget cuts, the column argues, the state should have better things to do than outlaw gazebos.

Here’s a different version of the story. The law is the law, whether we like it or not, and enforcement agencies cannot pick and choose. Someone complained to DEP. Under MGL c. 91a, waterways are public spaces open to all and cannot be arbitrarily obstructed by private property owner. And it’s precisely because the state has so few resources they cannot make house calls and peer behind curtains to evaluate personal circumstances. If DEP were to make enforcement decisions based on personal circumstances, where would you draw the line? Wouldn’t the media run an expose’ about arbitrary actions and favoritism?

The death of the owners of the gazebo is very sad. But to lay it at the feet of DEP and Bowles is offensive. Budget cuts have dramatically scaled down government, and government has one primary obligation…to enforce the letter of the law even-handedly, without fear or favor.

 

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