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January 5, 2013

Saving Plum island homes

NEWBURY — Defenders of Plum Island, concluding that beach-scraping is not an effective long-term tool against coastal erosion, yesterday agreed to pursue the possibility of putting “hard structures” such as walls or piles of rock on the beach.

Discussion of this tactic took place at a meeting of the Merrimack River Beach Alliance, at which local, state and federal officials — along with beachfront residents —acknowledged that long-range solutions are needed to preserve houses near the ocean.

Noting that aggregations of rock and/or cement pieces have been deposited on the beachfront in past eras, leaders said they are researching whether such hard-to-move matter can be approved in modern times.

“We are going to fully, fully look into this option,” said state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, who is co-chair of the volunteer organization. “There may be a path forward that provides a longer-term approach.”

Tarr, a lawyer, said that the MRBA is attempting to “evolve the regulations” in seeking approvals to save beachside homes. He was not specific in exactly what kind of “wall” would be proposed.

State and federal guidelines generally prohibit the introduction of foreign materials that might damage the quality of the beach and dunes.

Indeed, town officials here went through numerous steps last month to obtain permits that enabled them to scrape the beach in front of homes on vulnerable Annapolis Way.

But an unexpectedly harsh nor’easter last week caused significant damage along the beach, tearing away 10 to 20 horizontal feet of dunes. Four residences on that thoroughfare have had some of the dune they sit on torn away and their basements undermined. Several others are now perilously close to the edge of the dune. The crisis has numerous officials seeking solutions that might be more effective than beach-scraping, sand-bagging and snow-fencing.

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