NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

February 13, 2013

Erosion sparks safety concern on Salisbury Beach

Shore enthusiast fears hollowed dunes could collapse

By Angeljean Chiaramida
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALISBURY BEACH — Since the 1950s, Anthony Coletti has spent his summers enjoying the Seabrook and Salisbury coastline.

In more than a half-century, he said he’s never seen parts of Salisbury Beach in as dangerous shape as in the wake of the Blizzard of 2013.

Coletti, who has lived year-round on Seabrook Beach since retiring from teaching after 36 years at Billerica High School, is one of the first people out on his favorite stretch of shoreline each morning. He enjoys walking along both Seabrook and Salisbury beaches, picking up ocean-polished seaglass for his projects and soaking in nature’s beauty.

But beauty wasn’t what he found after the blizzard when he strolled along Salisbury’s stretch of shoreline. The storm-battered dunes were ravaged, leaving those from public access points 7 through 10 nothing but unsupported, 12-foot cliffs, he said.

Coletti said the eroded dunes — some carved hollow in the center on their seaward side — look like giant waves ready to break. They’re precipices on the verge of collapse, and the results could be tragic if someone happens to be beneath or on top of them, he warned.

“Kids are on vacation next week,” Coletti said. “They could come and play on the (eroded) dunes. If they fall in on them, it only takes three to five minutes to suffocate.”

Salisbury conservation agent Michelle Rowden said she knows exactly why Coletti is concerned. Beach erosion like what’s being seen now is common after storms that bring raging seas, she said. But, just because it’s not a rare occurrence doesn’t make it any less serious, she said.

“Right after a storm like this one, the beach can be a dangerous place. We saw that with other storms when old snow fencing was exposed and a child was injured,” Rowden said.

Rowden advised people, particularly children, to steer clear of the beach for a while, adding the beach and its dunes are not places for children to run around and play on following a blizzard.

“The dunes are probably very unstable right now and there’s a lot of debris on the beach, a lot of broken glass,” she said.

Given that the state Department of Conservation and Recreation owns the 3.8 miles of Salisbury Beach, Rowden said she would call state officials to see what they have planned in the wake of the storm. She’ll also discuss with them the possibility of placing warning signs at the beach until the danger clears.

Salisbury Beach as a whole sustained an enormous amount of damage during the storm and lost several feet of sand to the sea, Rowden said. But what was most surprising is that the erosion occurred in areas previously not prone to problems, she said.

Customarily, when stormy seas rage along Salisbury’s shores, it’s the south end of the beach, along Atlantic Avenue, that sees the brunt of the damage. But not this time, Rowden said.

The most severe damage occurred in the 200 to 400 stretch of North End Boulevard, she said. Homeowners there were caught off-guard when waves inundated the protective dunes, crashing into and flooding some properties for the first time.

“Everyone always worries about erosion on Plum Island,” Coletti said. “But after what I saw at the beach, it’s going to be Salisbury Beach that’s next to wash away. This storm just devastated Salisbury Beach.”