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April 4, 2013

New way to preserve Plum Island dunes examined

NEWBURYPORT - Municipal officials concerned about erosion on Plum Island are investigating a dune protection program known as a “biomimicry sand collection” system that can be assembled cheaply by volunteers.

At a meeting of the Conservation Commission this week, conservation coordinator Julia Godtfredsen said that the pilot program has worked well on parts of Cape Cod.

The term biomimicry refers to random patterns of thin cedar shims that mimic native beach vegetation by collecting and stabilizing wind-blown sand.

The shims are inserted several inches into the sand, spaced from 10 to 14 inches apart, in a random matrix from 4 to 6 feet wide, along the upper beach.

During wind events, the system performs by collecting sand, according to developers of the technology.

When the sand levels rise, the slats are pulled up higher, to continue performing.

Members of the Beach Management Committee are considering the project for the beach in front of 61st Street, in part because there is an overwash during storm events. That means surf surges into areas between dwellings.

“This could be worth trying,” said James O’Brien, a member of the commission who lives on Plum Island. “It has been successful in other areas, and costs are low.”

During the Conservation Commission meeting, Godtfredsen said, “Volunteers, possibly from high schools, can install such a system. We are looking into the possibility of using it here.”

North Shore residents in many coastal communities are seeking new strategies to counter erosion following a winter where four storms created an unusual amount of erosion.

The coastline in Newbury recently received national attention after six houses were destroyed as a result of surging seas. Another 20 are still considered “vulnerable,” according to Newbury officials.

The seashore in Newburyport sustained little damage. Indeed, only one dwelling on 55th Street was reported to have sustained (minor) destruction.

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