EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Boston and Beyond

May 8, 2014

Budget amendment by Costello fuels controversy

BOSTON — Outgoing Rep. Michael Costello of Newburyport is under fire for slipping a controversial amendment into the state budget last week on behalf of a powerful Boston lobbying firm that has contributed to his political campaigns.

Costello, a six-term Democrat who isn’t seeking reelection, got an amendment added to the House budget at the request of the lobbying group ML Strategies that effectively blocks a proposal by a Mashpee shell-fisherman to build an oyster farm in Popponesset Bay.

The amendment creates a “special coastal resource sanctuary” on the site, prohibiting development of wetlands at the center of a dispute between fisherman Richard Cook, environmental activists and homeowners who oppose the project.

Cape Cod lawmakers criticized the move, saying they were not consulted about the amendment before it was offered by Costello, whose district is nearly 100 miles away, and included in the House budget proposal.

“I really don’t understand why he did it,” said Sen. Dan Wolf, D-Harwich, who represents the district and supports the oyster farm proposal. “I’m scratching my head wondering why he didn’t talk to anyone in Mashapee or lawmakers who represent the district.”

But Costello argues that the proposal seeks to protect a salt marsh that serves as an environmentally sensitive habitat for sea birds. The area, he said, is “much like my district in Newburyport.”

“Quite frankly, I think this is a state issue,” Costello said. “The state has a vested interest in making sure that those waterways remain as open space and undeveloped.”

ML Strategies, which lists former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and numerous former state lawmakers as lobbyists, has contributed more than $3,000 to Costello’s campaigns in the past decade, according to filings with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

A spokeswoman for ML Strategies confirmed that Costello filed the amendment on behalf of the firm for Chuck Clough, an investment banker whose waterfront mansion is located near the proposed oyster farm.

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