, Newburyport, MA

March 26, 2013

Group focuses on climate change, coastal erosion


---- — NEWBURYPORT — Local residents concerned about climate change and the rising of the sea held their third meeting last night, and several suggested that developing an action plan is about as complex as the ecosystem itself.

Ideas were discussed and viewpoints exchanged, but organizers said it will take more such gatherings to identify what the group should actually do.

“We’ll be meeting again,” said Ron Martino, an organizer. “There are many people here who want to prepare for future climate conditions, but we have to determine what the community wants to do, and what is actionable.”

More than three dozen gathered at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, but those present are technically not part of a formal organization. The group doesn’t yet have a name.

Yet many of those present said they have been troubled about the growing effect of seasonal storms and the erosion-generated destruction on Plum Island.

Guest speaker was Steve Miller, coordinator of the Coastal Training Program of the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in southern New Hampshire.

Miller indicated that New Hampshire is several years ahead of coastal Massachusetts in creating study groups and developing workshops.

He provided advice on what regional and national institutes might be sources of grant money to study coastal issues in Essex County.

Those who attended were from Massachusetts, however, and their concerns focused on recent storm events that resulted in the loss of six houses on the Newbury portion of Plum Island. Another two dozen structures are still considered vulnerable.

There were few municipal officials in the audience, and it was a citizen forum at which issues were raised but few solutions provided.

Bill Sargent, an author and naturalist, suggested that the community consider a cessation of construction on oceanside dunes.

“Government should encourage the community not to build,” said Sargent, an Ipswich resident who has documented erosion loss in other parts of the state.

He said that homeowners had “managed the message” for decades that those who lose houses to erosion should rebuild. He suggested that residents should be part of a loyal opposition to the practice of building on dunes.

Group members did not embrace his viewpoint, but many listeners appeared interested in learning how planning and preparation can make the community more prepared for severe climate events in the future.

Newbury Selectman David Mountain, one of the few municipal officials present, said that useful questions were asked and important issues raised.

“We have heard similar discussion at Town Hall, including the idea of zoning changes,” said Mountain.

He noted that more discussion will take place tonight at the Firemen’s Memorial Hall beginning at 7 when state and local officials will meet with homeowners to discuss Plum Island. The meeting is open to the public.

Representatives from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency are scheduled to speak.

The tentative agenda also includes the following: report on homes in jeopardy, potential zoning and regulatory relief and financial assistance.