METHUEN — The potential impact of a development project on a pair of nesting bald eagles in Methuen will be discussed at a hearing in the Searles Building at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 17.
The eagles nest on property at 799 Lowell St., where O’Brien Homes, Inc., wants to build a single-family dwelling. The project was discussed at a April 6 meeting of the Conservation Commission, which also received a report on the topic in May.
Residents of the Regency at Methuen, an over-55 retirement community on Sherwood Drive that abuts 799 Lowell St., are concerned about the project because they have grown attached to the eagles.
“You can see why it’s a national symbol,” said Gene Blake. “It’s a regal, majestic bird.”
Blake, who worked as an environmental engineer before retiring, said eagles mate for life and remain in the same nest unless something causes them to leave.
Blake also said there are 80 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the state, most of which are in western Massachusetts, while the eagles in Methuen are one of only two mating pairs in this region.
“There might be one in Haverhill,” he said. “In the whole Merrimack Valley from Lowell to Newburyport, there are two. They love fishing in the river.”
Stuart Malis, who recently presented a photo of the eagles at a City Council meeting, said he has been taking pictures of the pair since he moved to Regency at Methuen in 2014.
Part of the pleasure of having eagles as neighbors, he said, is watching them raise their young.
“There are one or two a year,” Malis said. “Most years, it’s one. But we’ve seen surviving eaglets every year.”
The hearing, which will be held in the conference room on the second floor, will feature a review of the project from MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
No such review had been conducted previously. Minutes from the April 6 meeting of the Conservation Commission report “although the nest is established, it doesn’t appear on the estimated habitat mapping that is used for wetlands permitting, which most environmental consultants would rely on.”
As a result, the O’Brien Homes project did not address the issue of the eagles’ nest in materials initially submitted.
But the minutes said Maureen Herald from Norse Environmental Services, who works for O’Brien Homes, was eventually informed that the Natural Heritage Program had requested “a copy of the Notice of Intent to review.” Herald then toured the site with Joseph Giarrusso, conservation officer for Methuen, prior to the meeting on April 6.
That meeting featured discussion of various regulations addressing the distance from a nest at which construction may be carried out, and times of year when crews are permitted to work in the vicinity of a nest.
Several abutters also voiced concern over a rock ledge at 799 Lowell St. that may require blasting or chipping in order to accommodate the building.
“Mr. O’Brien said he doesn’t intend on blasting the ledge and would only do so if it was absolutely necessary,” the minutes said, quoting Kevin O’Brien of O’Brien Homes.
The matter was tabled and will be brought up again at Thursday’s hearing.
“Ms. Herald said that before she submits revised plans, she would like to get feedback from MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program, with respect to the conditions they would like to be imposed on the lot,” the minutes said.