, Newburyport, MA

March 9, 2013

Sea rise group considers damage to coast


---- — NEWBURYPORT — The ocean’s vigorous pummeling of Plum Island yesterday was an event that might have been expected by a growing organization concerned about the rising of the sea.

The group is so new it does not yet have a name

But about 70 people have been involved in early meetings, the last of which was Feb. 21 at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island.

A third meeting is planned for late March but the time and place have not been decided.

“As the sea rises and storm intensity increases, we will see more events (like damage on Plum Island) on our coasts,” said Elizabeth Marcus of Newburyport, an early joiner.

“We need to start a community conversation about how we are going to deal with that in the future.”

Joe Teixeira, who leads the Conservation Commission here, said he believes sea-level rise (abetted by environmental factors) is connected to recent storm surges on North Shore beaches.

“SLR is a function of the atmosphere heating up,” said Teixeira, who said he was speaking as a private citizen, not as a board chairman.

“And seawater does expand when heated. Also, due to the added heat, there is more energy in the atmosphere driving more frequent and more violent storms.”

Local and state officials have been committed to attempting to protect local beaches from storms.

Numerous governmental representatives worked to obtain federal funds to strengthen and heighten the south jetty at the intersection of the Merrimack River and the ocean.

They believe the work, for which they have obtained about $8 million in federal funds, will help to control erosion that continues to threaten dozens of houses in Newburyport and Newbury.

The Merrimack River Beach Alliance meets regularly to discuss methods to protect homes. Its next session is Monday at 11 a.m. at the Plum Island Taxpayers and Associates building at 8 Plum Island Turnpike on the island.

Representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have launched an off-site study to determine exactly how the ocean is reacting to the shore, the river and the jetties — and what can be done.

But that analysis could take up to two years, federal spokesmen say.

While studies are under way, scores of local residents appear to be interested in discussing what can be done to react to the churning sea.

Ron Martino of Newburyport, an organizer of the new group, said that much can be learned by observing the reactions of other communities.

“We’ve had strong response, from people in Salisbury, Newburyport, Newbury and also Ipswich, Essex and Rowley,” said Martino.

Martino said that there are at least three kinds of response: defend, retreat or absorb.

“The Dutch defend, with seawalls and other tools,” he said. “Some retreat. In New York, Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo has suggested buying (damaged) houses in low-lying (storm-hit) residential areas on Long Island, paying the homeowners market price to leave, and letting the land return to its natural state.”

Martino said that those interested in “absorbing” can consider new local regulations that govern planning, zoning and criteria for construction.

He added that communities might consider overlooking their town boundaries so that coastal problems can be considered in the whole, rather than town by town.

Commenting about the nascent group of sea-rise watchers, Martino said, “We’re not late but we’re not early. Others, including a group in Portsmouth, N.H., have been talking about the rising sea in the future.

“I do think it’s useful that we begin discussing how we react to this.”