, Newburyport, MA

April 9, 2013

Town, state split over Salisbury Beach fix

By Angeljean Chiaramida

---- — SALISBURY — Usually on the same page concerning the best interests of Salisbury Beach, as of yesterday local officials and those from the state agency that owns the beach were not seeing eye to eye on how best to repair the devastating shore erosion caused by this year’s storms.

“Sand should go in front of people’s houses where the dune (erosion) is the worst,” Town Manager Neil Harrington said yesterday morning. “Usually we have a great relationship with DCR. This is the first time in many years we haven’t agreed on something this important.”

Last Wednesday, only a couple of hours before Salisbury Conservation Commission was to meet, the DCR emailed its request for an emergency certification permit to fix the storm-ravaged beach, which it owns. However, since the state’s priorities didn’t mesh with those of the towns, and due in part to the last-minute nature of the DCR’s move, commissioners postponed approving the certificate until the town could take a second look at the damage.

According to DCR’s emergency certificate request, it would take only about 15,000 cubic yard of sand from a large erosion-formed sandbar at the north jetty. Once harvested, the sand would be distributed to three areas in priority order, but such a small amount of sand probably won’t be enough to get beyond Priorities 1 and 2, according to DCR North Region engineer Darryl Forgione.

In DCR’s request, Priority 1 includes Reservation access ways 1, 3 and 4, public access ways at Murray Street, Vermont Street and Central Avenue, access ways 2 and 3 on Ocean Front North, and 1 and 2 along the Beach Center. Priority 2 lists only the Beach Center’s DCR location outside of access ways and fronting existing dunes, with the priority 3 listed as access ways number 7 and 8.

However, the town priority list is different. It would lead off with making the severely damaged beach in front of Broadway and Driftway safe and secure, then take on tide-ravaged dunes in front of homes between access ways 6 through 8, leaving southern access ways last.

Salisbury conservation agent Michele Rowden hadn’t reviewed DCR’s priority list, nor had she even known it was coming before seeing it at 6 p.m. Wednesday night, right before the Conservation Commission’s 7 p.m. meeting. But she had worked with DCR right after the March 8 storm tides carved away thousands of tons of sand from the beach, and had identified for the agency 22 hot spots badly needing restoration.

She believed at the time that the southern end of the beach had been spared the brunt of the storm, but the Beach Center and the dunes from 176 to 266 North End Blvd. (between access ways 6 and 8) sustained the worst damage from six ferocious high tides.

After she spent three hours Friday reviewing the beach with Forgione, Rowden stands by that assessment, which doesn’t jibe with DCR’s belief that fixing the access ways to the beach is the most vital. Although she and Harrington hope DCR can be persuaded to conform to the town’s opinion, they said, Salisbury doesn’t have the authority to force the issue.

“We can’t make them do what we want them to do on their own property. It’s like the town forcing someone to fix the roof on his house,” Rowden said. “But we can do everything in our power to encourage DCR to do what we feel is the most important.”

Salisbury’s state legislative delegation feels the same way. In a letter sent to DCR Commissioner Ed Lambert on Saturday, April 6, Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, and Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, thanked the agency for its present plan. But they politely suggest more is required. The legislators want more sand, more work and more money spent to shore up dunes in front of private homes where some of the worst erosion took place.

The legislators offered two ways for DCR to do that. First, they want the agency to harvest and stockpile more sand than the 15,000 cubic yards from the sandbar at the north jetty and use it for this restoration project and future needs.

Rowden said the 15,000 cubic yards identified by DCR refers to accumulated sand on the sandbar that’s above the water.

“DCR doesn’t plan to harvest sand from below the water line because that would require bigger and better permits, like from the Army Corps (of Engineers),” Rowden explained.

The second option the legislators present is for DCR to postpone until fall demolishing the shuttered Sidewalk Cafe at Ocean Front South, which they purchased last year. Targeted for the demolition is roughly $300,000 of the Salisbury Beach State Reservation Trust Fund, money O’Connor Ives and Costello believe should be used to underwrite the storm damage restoration project instead, since it’s more urgent. The sand scheduled to rebuild the Sidewalk Cafe dune requires about 14,000 cubic yards, the legislators point out, almost the same amount needed to fix the eroded dunes.

“I feel it’s especially important to shore up areas where homeowners invested (their own money buying) sand to ensure that sand doesn’t wash away,” O’Connor Ives said yesterday. “To me, that’s just common sense.”

O’Connor Ives wants a good working partnership with DCR to benefit all involved, and this response from the agency is an important factor. Both she and Costello plan a conference call with the agency this week to discuss the options they outlined in their letter.