, Newburyport, MA

May 17, 2013

Locals disappointed by state's beach repairs

Not enough sand taken to fix problem areas


---- — SALISBURY — Too small an effort to fix a huge problem is how many are defining the state’s recent efforts to restore the storm-ravaged shores of Salisbury Beach.

Frustrating is another word used to describe recent dealings with state Department of Conservation and Recreation on the extent of repair needed. The agency, which owns the town’s entire 3.8 miles of shoreline, recently completed its repair of the devastating erosion wrought by February and March storms. But it fell far short of getting the job done, according to several town officials.

The state harvested only about 15,000 cubic yards of sand from a large sandbar at Salisbury’s north jetty, redistributing it along the beach in approved areas, especially at Salisbury Beach Center. Frustration has grown because there’s a lot more than 15,000 cubic yards of sand in the sandbar, but DCR insisted it could only harvest that amount. Most, even DCR engineer Darryl Forgione, knew from the start that allotment wouldn’t go very far.

In the end, there wasn’t enough sand to repair many of the 22 hardest hit hot spots. A prime area left untouched was the dune system abutting private homes between access ways six and eight, where damage from the February blizzard and three-day March coastal storm was the worst.

“(DCR’s) plan didn’t harvest enough sand, and that’s a tragedy,” Town Manager Neil Harrington. “It’s a ridiculous situation. There’s still sand accumulating at the jetty that they could harvest. I know we need more sand.”

Harrington thought the agency didn’t do any more because it didn’t have the money.

Yesterday, DCR spokeswoman SJ Port said the recent project cost the agency at total of $165,620 — $36,620 for design and permitting and $129,000 for the actual construction. Money came from the agency’s Rivers and Harbors Program through its Waterways Program.

The agency didn’t dip into the special Salisbury Beach Preservation Trust Fund created in 2008 to fight erosion and preserve the beach. Projected to produce $250,000 a year, the money comes from a $2 surcharge on parking and camping fees for reservation visitors. Questions about the trust fund were not answered yesterday by DCR officials.

As for why only 15,000 cubic yards were harvested from the sandbar created from sand that’s migrated there from Salisbury Beach, Port said after surveying the sandbar, the state could only harvest what had been deposited by the winter storms.

“DEP doesn’t normally allow artificially moving of sand within a beach system,” Port said. “They agreed in this case because the material was from the beach, landed on the west side of the jetty and was threatening the channel and would otherwise be lost to the beach system anyway.”

Selectmen Fred Knowles said after taking part in one of the conference calls concerning the erosion, he was surprised DCR wasn’t more responsive to fixing all of the beach. Knowles felt the agency’s only real concern related to the part of the shoreline that makes up the formal portion of Salisbury Beach State Reservation. State officials’ level of concern dropped significantly, he said, when the discussion involved fixing the obliterated dune system in the north end of the beach, which abuts private homes.

“It just didn’t seem to be one of the state’s priorities to make repairs to areas abutting the private property,” Knowles said. “They seemed to be willing to just kind of wait and hope the problem takes care of itself.”

The criticism is surprising, for usually Harrington and other local officials have maintained a good relationship with DCR in recent years. Harrington’s admitted the state’s lack of response to the situation is difficult to understand.

Even state Rep. Michael Costello and state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, while thankful that after their urging that DCR made at least this measured response, were disappointed the state agency refused to identify more money for more sand to do the whole job. Both legislators promised to try to find additional resources to mount the additional repairs, but much of that depends on getting earmarked funds through the state budget process currently ongoing.

For newly elected Selectman Freeman Condon, DCR’s unwillingness to do more to fully repair the storm damage on Salisbury Beach is unfortunately not surprising. Condon, who served as a selectmen previously, said the state hasn’t always given Salisbury Beach the attention it deserves.

“I want to give credit where credit is due,” Condon said. “Mike Magnifico and his crew at the beach do a great job. It’s an absolutely beautiful resource. But the state’s been hesitant at times to help mitigate problems there when they come up. The state could do a better job at that. It’s very frustrating because our hands are tied. It’s the state’s beach.”

Condon said Salisbury Beach State Reservation is the most frequented of all state-owned parks, producing significant revenue for the state budget from fees visitors pay. Doing everything possible to repair the erosion that took thousands of tons of sand from the beach seems only logical, he said — it’s the way to protect a lucrative state asset.

Legislators, town officials and residents lobbied hard for more to be done, but DCR remained adamant as to how much it would do and where it would put the sand. Salisbury conservation officials were partially successful in getting DCR to comply with where they believed the sand should go, but the town’s authority was limited.

It’s the state’s beach, said Salisbury Conservation agent Michele Rowden, so Salisbury couldn’t force DCR to fix areas Salisbury believed were the most severely damaged. What the Salisbury Conservation Commission could and did do through the permitting process was prevent DCR from using sand in areas the town didn’t believe measured up to emergency status.

Since the storms hit, beachfront homeowners have scrambled and spent thousands of dollars to bring in sand to shore up the dunes in front of their homes on property they own. But without DCR re-establishing the dune system on its land that abuts these homes, the next storm could savage the area again.