NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 1, 2013

A civics lesson in good government

Newburyport City Notebook
Dyke Hendrickson

---- — Does government work?

That question has always being asked, and it is now getting close examination when it comes to the subject of Plum Island.

On the north end (Newburyport) of the island, local, state and federal officials are cooperating effectively to rebuild the jetties.

Meanwhile, on the south end of the inhabited part of Plum Island (Newbury), the civics class is still in session on how to deal with erosion, the loss of houses and a concern for state environmental guidelines.

On the northern end: Word came down late last week that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approved a 15-day extension of jetty-building there.

The Corps is working with managers from the federal fish and wildlife division to assign a "plover monitor" so that work can continue while the federally protected migratory birds can go nest-hunting.

This extension was important because project leaders have enough money left of their $3.6 million grant to continue for at least a few more weeks.

The boulders have been delivered, the heavy equipment is in place and all (human) participants were in accord that a waiver to work until April 15 would help the project. Permission was granted.

In a perfect world, the piping plovers will keep their minds on mating while construction teams raise and fortify the south jetty.

Going back almost two years, this project has had a political village working for it, including Mayor Donna Holaday, Council President Tom O'Brien, Newbury Selectmen Chairman Joe Story, state Rep. Mike Costello, D-Newburyport, state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, and U.S. Rep. John Tierney, D-Salem. In recent months, state Sen. Katy Ives, D-Newburyport, and state Rep. Lenny Mirra, R-West Newbury, have joined the successful lobbying effort.

And this group has landed another $5.5 million of federal funds for a phase 2 for the south jetty in the near future.

Meanwhile, at the south end of the (inhabited) beach, the jury is still out on the ability of government to handle conflict and controversy..

Erosion and storm devastation have taken six homes, and about 20 more are vulnerable, according to town officials in Newbury.

Oceanside residents took an enormous stretch in bringing in tons of rock and chiseled stone -- without permits -- to place in front of their homes.

Now they are asking members of the state Department of Environmental Protection for its blessing to "mine" (dig up) sand at low tide and move it in front of their houses to replenish the dunes.

In Massachusetts, oceanside homeowners own the land down to the low tide mark, so it can't be said they are transgressing upon state property, officials say.

Still, mining would appear to require DEP permission.

Late last week, state officials essentially asked oceanside homeowners to come up with definitive plans to explain and document their concept of mining.

From the office of Tarr: "It is recommended that the proponents of such proposals consult with qualified professionals to develop engineered plans as soon as possible. Please advise us when such plans are available."

So it appears the DEP is willing to examine the suggestion of mining. But they need a little science to take is seriously.

(An aside: One of the proponents of mining said the concept was to dig a hole at low tide "big enough to bury a battleship." It was an apt description, but perhaps not an appealing one for the environmental crowd.)

In the words of Tarr, who co-chairs the Merrimack River Beach Alliance, homeowners must "push the envelope" to protect their homes.

That they are doing. They have taken upon themselves to place tons of rock along the high tide mark.

Now they are suggesting bringing heavy machinery onto the beach to mine and transport the sand to "replenish" the dunes.

Local government in Newbury appears to support this; state government in Boston wants to be convinced that the beach can be saved without destroying it.

Does government work? We'll see.

Meetings this week

Tonight

School Committee with visiting officials, 6 p.m., room 118, high school.

Moseley Woods Commission, 6:30 p.m., 4 Green St.

School Committee, 7 p.m., room 118, high school.

Waterfront Trust, 7 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.

Tuesday

River Valley Charter School, Finance Committee, 6 p.m., 2 Perry Way.

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

River Valley Executive Committee, 7 p.m., 2 Perry Way

Wednesday

Senior Center Building Committee, 5 p.m., City Hall, second floor.

Library Board of Directors, 5:15 p.m., library, 94 State St.

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

Thursday

Commission on Diversity and Tolerance, 4 p.m., City Hall.

Open Space Committee, 7 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.

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

Historical Commission, 7:30 p.m., City Council Chambers.

Friday

Superintendent Search Committee, 4:30 p.m., 81 State St.