NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 18, 2013

Many questions linger on next moves for Plum Island

Newburyport City Notebook
Dyke Hendrickson

---- — Two meetings are coming up that could be important to the future of Plum Island. On Friday, the Merrimack River Beach Alliance will gather to discuss beach-repair operations; no venue or time has been confirmed yet. Next Monday, a group concerned about the rising of the sea will gather at 6:45 p.m. at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, 6 Plum Island Turnpike.

Island homeowners attending the MRBA meeting will likely learn more about key issues relating to rebuilding.

And it might become clearer about who or what agencies will pay for the recent damage caused by erosion and/or winter storms.

So far, it’s not looking good.

State Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, who is co-chairman of the alliance, has indicated Plum Island is not eligible for federal or state aid. But he said he will be reporting back Friday on ways that oceanside homeowners can deal with future threats to their homes.

Some oceanside residents have asked for permission to use heavy machinery to “mine” sand and move it in front of their homes.

Others want permission to import huge rocks to place in front of their diminishing dunes. (This is happening already).

Whether officials of the state Department of Environmental Protection will bend on regulations that discourage such practices might become known on Friday. At last week’s capacity-crowd meeting on the island, no DEP representatives were present.

Dilemma: The community wants to save the houses, but state officials don’t want to cede authority on environmental issues to homeowners with backhoes.

Perhaps the DEP will send word on what it will permit.

Regarding the meeting a week from today, the sea-rise crowd could address the issue of how does climate change affect the local barrier island.

At least one key issue could be discussed: building permits.

What if homeowners who lost houses want to build there again? Will they get permission for a structure on the same land?

This is a tough question for Newbury, a community that has trouble passing the smallest tax-override measure to fund local operations.

If Town Hall loses tax revenue because the seaside houses are gone, can officials pay the bills?

Organizers of the sea-rise group say they might discuss ideas proposed for Long Island, N.Y., where low-lying homes were damaged or destroyed in Hurricane Sandy.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has suggested a plan in which residents living in flood plains with homes that were significantly damaged would be offered the pre-storm value of their houses to relocate.

According to news reports, those in more vulnerable areas would be offered a federally funded bonus to sell. The land would never be built on again.

The Cuomo proposal suggests that properties could be turned into dunes, wetlands or other natural buffers that would help protect coastal communities. Other parcels could be combined and turned into public parkland, news reports say

That is an ambitious, far-reaching plan. But it appears to be one that could be considered.

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The following meetings are scheduled this week and are open to the public:

Tonight

Newburyport Housing Authority, 5 p.m., 25 Temple St.

Communications subcommittee of the whole School Committee, 5:30 p.m., room 118, Newburyport High School

School Committee, 6:30 p.m., room 118, high school

Waterfront Trust, 7 p.m., City Council chambers

River Valley Charter School Trustees, 7 p.m., 2 Perry Way

Tuesday

Bartlet Mall Commission, 6 p.m., library

Conservation Commission, 6:30 p.m., City Council chambers

Wednesday

Licensing Commission, 7 p.m., 4 Green St.

Planning Board, 7 p.m., City Council chambers

Thursday

Board of Health, 7 p.m., City Hall

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Dyke Hendrickson covers Newburyport for The Daily News. He can be reached at 978-462-6666, ext. 3226, or dhendrickson@newburyportnews.com.