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February 6, 2013

PI tree fix won't take root

Officials not convinced Christmas firs can remedy erosion

PLUM ISLAND — Thousands of people gathered at Tendercrop Farm last month to watch a massive pile of discarded Christmas trees from across the region go up in smoke as part of the Old Newbury Bonfire fundraiser.

While the well-attended event served as a successful fundraiser for the Newbury Fire Department, could the burning of thousands of Christmas trees be depriving Plum Island residents of an inexpensive method of protecting their shoreline and perhaps stopping their houses from falling into the Atlantic?

The city of Long Beach, N.Y., battered by Hurricane Sandy last October, may hold the answer to that question.

In January, Long Beach city workers and volunteers met on one of the city’s beaches that forms a small buffer between the Long Island community and the Atlantic Ocean and deposited thousands of Christmas trees along the shore. Their hope is that the trees will accumulate blowing sand and eventually become the foundation for a new system of sand dunes.

On Plum Island, a surprisingly powerful storm in December ripped away several feet of sand from the coastline, placing four Annapolis Way homes in danger of collapsing into the ocean.

Over the next few days, work crews hired by the homeowners scrambled to install a series of tube-like sandbags or coir bags along the beach to protect those homes.

It is estimated the coir bags alone cost between $120,000 and $140,000 with the town pitching in $10,000 for engineering costs related to the emergency efforts.

As recently as October, state and local officials expressed confidence that Annapolis Way homes were safer thanks to recent beach replenishment efforts known as beach scraping. But the December surge proved that the expansive beach scraping effort that required state and federal approval appeared to be fruitless.

Long Beach spokesman Gordon Tapper said the Christmas tree idea came from residents who had heard of it being successfully implemented in other beach communities across the country.

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