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January 17, 2013

Focus shifts to long-term fixes

Officials seek environmental analysis, input for solutions

NEWBURY — “Are we going to run and retreat or stand up and fight the erosion?”

That was the question Selectmen Chairman Joe Story posed last week to his colleagues during an update on the status of emergency efforts to save homes and property on Plum Island in the wake of recent damaging storms.

Ultimately, the board agreed to ask consulting engineer David Vine of GZA Environmental Inc. in Newburyport to create an analysis of possible alternatives for the beach erosion issues on Plum Island.

Vine, who has been involved in numerous projects in Newbury — especially on the barrier island — will work closely with Conservation Agent Doug Packard to draft a document that will eventually be presented to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Erosion problems on Plum Island reached crisis level late last month when four homes on Annapolis Way were deemed uninhabitable. Homeowners, town employees and contractors worked frantically to install tube-like coir sandbags and wood cribbing in an effort to stave off further destruction from a pending storm.

Selectman Michael Bulgaris said he believes the town bears responsibility for helping to keep Plum Island residents from losing their homes, adding that the properties under natural attack are an important part of the community’s tax base.

“I think we have an obligation to help,” Bulgaris said.

Selectman Geoffrey Walker said the willingness of state officials to speak with the town raised the possibility of developing a “sustainable coastline plan” for the long term. He said if selectmen didn’t seize the opportunity, “we’re going to look stupid.”

Packard said the door for a conversation with state officials about rising sea levels and the impact they are having on beach erosion has been opened wider, thanks in part to efforts by Story. He said if the board doesn’t follow through on that opening and meet with the state, “I don’t think you can complain afterward.”

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