, Newburyport, MA

Local News

December 16, 2013

'Sand Wars' waged all along state's coast

Replenishing sand to protect against coastal erosion has become big business


The fresh layered dunes and snow fencing in front of beach homes on Plum Island’s southern end belie the ragged erosion from this year’s February Blizzard and March Northeaster. The storms toppled or forced the demolition of six homes on the Newbury portion of the island. The destruction intensified homeowners’ long fight with state officials for the right to save their property.

Several homeowners along hard-hit Annapolis Way were allowed by the state and Army Corps to take sand, called scraping, from the beach to place in front of homes last year right before Sandy as an emergency measure. Yet state and federal officials rarely approve beach scraping because it can harm bird and other wildlife habitat and even exacerbate erosion because it changes the contours of a beach. Now, a larger group of homeowners is expected to apply this year for beach scraping - setting up a possible showdown with regulators.

“We need to protect beaches,” said Bob Connors, a Plum Island resident whose Newbury beachfront house is threatened by the sea. The beach provides “protection for roadways and other structures behind them. If we want to have beaches in Massachusetts we have to sustain them — it’s just like painting a bridge,” he said.

A few miles north on Salisbury Beach, Ray Champagne, head of the Salisbury Beach Betterment Association agrees. Oceanfront owners spent upwards of $5,000 each in the last year to recreate dunes in front of their homes taken by last year’s storms. But the state beach in front of them remains low, raising fears the ocean may come in even faster this Nor’easter season to overcome their dunes and flood homes. They want a $300,000 earmark — vetoed by Gov. Patrick but overridden by the legislature — to be used to put sand on the state beach, but in front of homes. So far, no decision has been made by the state where to put the sand.

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