Nahant residents protest Marine Science Center expansion


Chris Butler

Residents of Nahant, Massachusetts, traveled to Boston April 10 to deliver an open letter to Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun, urging him to rethink the university’s proposed expansion of the Marine Science Center in the town’s East Point area.

More than 30 Nahant residents protested the expansion by pacing outside Aoun’s office, holding signs and chanting “save Nahant, keep it wild.” The demonstration was organized by Keep Nahant Wild, a group created to advocate against Northeastern’s plans, which include constructing a 60,000-square-foot building. The protesters, like Nahant resident Margaret Alexander, say Northeastern would be encroaching on the 1.24 square mile town if it goes through with construction.

“We were really disturbed recently to learn about a 60,000-square-foot facility that they want to put in what is very little open space in our tiny town,” Alexander said. “It seems like they don’t want us to know and they’re trying to sneak it in under our noses.”

A university spokesperson said Northeastern is proud of its work in Nahant, where the university has funded local educational programs, conservation and restoration projects and scholarships for town residents to attend the university.  

“The university is committed to working collaboratively with Nahant residents to ensure that our much-needed investments pose only minimal and short-term disruptions to the community,” the spokesperson said in a Feb. 28 email to The News.

The spokesperson declined to answer follow-up questions, saying the statement was the university’s only response at this time.

As protesters chanted, Nahant resident and Keep Nahant Wild member Jim Walsh presented the letter to John Tobin, Northeastern’s vice president of city and community affairs. Tobin accepted the letter in Aoun’s absence, and a copy with more than 1,000 signatures was also sent to Aoun and the Board of Trustees.

Walsh said residents are concerned with how the expansion will impact the wildlife in the proposed development area.

“They want to put glass and steel where we have snowy owls and foxes and butterflies and birds,” Walsh said. “It’s simply inappropriate.”

Northeastern’s Marine Science Center has existed in Nahant for 51 years, and has maintained a positive relationship with the community, said Justin Mahone, a resident and lobsterman in Nahant.

“I personally think it’s a lot of building for such a small town,” Mahone said. “It seems like they’re asking too much.”

Nahant is the smallest town in Massachusetts by land area, and Nahant resident Christoph Wald said its residents are further concerned with how the town’s existing infrastructure will support the expansion. He said many residents are questioning if the town has enough space and public transportation to account for incoming Northeastern faculty.

“The town infrastructure cannot support that,” Wald said. “I think they just set their mind on this space in Nahant because it’s such a beautiful spot.”

The new facility will not use seawater, so it is not necessary for the building to be located in Nahant, or even near the water. Despite offers from surrounding towns, including nearby Lynn, the university is going ahead with construction in Nahant.

“Lynn has particularly said they would roll the red carpet out for Northeastern,” Mahone said. “But they won’t go there.”

The protesters said they will continue to fight against Northeastern’s expansion, hoping the university will reconsider.

“This is the beginning of an effort that will not end until Northeastern rethinks their actions,” Walsh said.