, Newburyport, MA

January 9, 2014

Selectmen to discuss PI storm issues tonight

By Jim Sullivan

---- — NEWBURY — Selectmen will hold a special meeting at Town Hall tonight to discuss last week’s snowstorm and its effect on Plum Island.

“What we are looking at is what do we have for problems and what do we need to look at moving ahead,” said selectman chairman Joe Story. “We have a selectmen’s meeting (scheduled for) next Tuesday, but we are trying to find out if there is anything we need to know for next Tuesday.”

The nor’easter dumped almost 2 feet of snow on the area last Thursday and Friday. Once again, all eyes were on the island, where six homes were lost last winter. Although there was no loss of power or homes last week, there are still issues to be discussed, he said.

“This last storm, believe it or not, it was nasty down there,” said Story. “And that was because of the snow and the cold and everything. We had extremely high, astronomical tides, but we didn’t have really heavy winds. We had wind gusts in the 20 (mph range). If we had gusts in the 40s and sustained winds in the 20s or 30s, we would’ve had a lot more problems. Those things all add up.”

Residents have taken it upon themselves to place a rocky barrier to protect their properties against storm surges and so far it seems to have worked for most.

“The people who had built substantial rock structures in front of their houses to protect them, they fared pretty well,” said Story. “There are two pieces of property that don’t have the rocks in front of them and that’s where we have some problems. And then there were some areas where the rock structures were not quite so robust and those areas needed a little repair.”

One home on Southern Boulevard lost a deck to the ocean last Friday; and since it has fallen to the residents to protect their homes, there has been no oversight, something that Hutchins Road resident Ron Barrett would like to see remedied.

“They have already messed up the beach; the beach is full of rocks. They might as well clean it up and do it correctly,” said Barrett. “If you’re going to do it, do it right, do it permanently. Engineer it, have an oversight on it and finish it. I can see no way they would make the people go down and take the rocks out of there, so make one continuous line the whole distance, or the other thing is, do nothing.”

Other concerns include the landmark Bennett Hill Cottage, which is currently sitting on the edge of a 25-foot cliff of sand.

“We want to prioritize what we are going to do down there,” said Story. “We know that we have a bad situation in front of Bennett Hill and we are looking in different directions to see what we can do to help them. And farther down on Annapolis (Way), the ocean has come in so that it is very, very close to the water and sewer pipes and we have to look at that, as we don’t want to jeopardize people’s water and sewer down on that street.”

Story was also quick to point out that winter isn’t the only time concerns are raised on Plum Island.

“We also get very gnarly storms in March and April,” he said. “When we get storms that coincide with high tides, when we get storms that have easterly winds that are blowing the ocean in, it usually takes high tides; and if you get a storm that lasts for three or four high tides, that pushes in the water and elevates it. You get a surge from it. When you get all those things added up, it could be 70 degrees and you could have some problems down there.

“(Tonight) is really about listening to people’s problems and gathering some information more than anything. We are working in several different directions, but we don’t have any great, good news to put out yet. That could break (tonight), but who knows.”