, Newburyport, MA

Local News

December 29, 2012

Operation sandbag

Officials act quick to protect threatened beachside


Bob Connors, a spokesman for the neighborhood and construction executive, said his house at 39 Annapolis Way is on pilings and still inhabitable.

“But I feel so badly for my neighbors and those who live in this area,” he said.

Yesterday, scores of visitors walked along the beach, expressing awe at how far into the dunes the surf had pervaded and how vulnerable the houses that are near “hot spots” of erosion appeared.

Bill Sargent, an Ipswich author who has written several books about the erosion factors on barrier islands such as Plum Island, said, “The only way this (house) damage will cease is to move the houses back from the beach.”

Some Plum Island residents expressed concern that if oceanfront houses collapse onto the beach, the water and sewer systems of the island could be compromised because they depend on a vacuum system to move water.

Those services are supervised by Newburyport officials, who yesterday said they are staying on top of the situation.

“The city has excellent engineers who are monitoring the system,” Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday said.

Yesterday’s action plan to provide buffers against future surges was accompanied by a discussion of whether earlier beach-scraping efforts had been helpful on that portion of Plum Island.

Last fall, a core of about eight homeowners received permission from local, state and federal officials to scrape sand from portions of the beach that had an “excess” of matter to sectors in front of houses threatened by erosion.

The action was taken despite the fact that town leaders have heard that scraping can fall short of full effectiveness.

The town cooperated with the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs on a 2010 study, the result of which was the “Beach Scraping Workgroup Report.”

That report said, in part, “The findings of all of the studies evaluated by the panel were consistent in areas experiencing high rates of erosion, that scraping exacerbates erosion within the regions scraped, by altering the morphology of the beach profile and creating a loose, more easily erodible fore-dune.”

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