, Newburyport, MA

February 8, 2013

Plum Islanders race to shore up homes

By Dave Rogers
Staff Writer

---- — PLUM ISLAND — As thousands of Greater Newburyport residents visited local stores to pick up food staples before today’s massive nor’easter struck the region, Annapolis Way homeowner Thomas Nee was in the middle of something a little more involved: trying to stop Mother Nature from claiming his beachfront property.

Yesterday afternoon, Nee was watching intently as contractors were driving lally columns into the sand beneath his house using a pneumatic driver. It is hoped the columns will prevent a large addition to the modern-looking home from falling into the ocean.

“We’re trying to save the house,” an exasperated Nee said earlier when a reporter called his house.

Worse-case scenarios predict two feet of snow and blizzard-level winds whipping up astronomically high tides tonight. Tomorrow’s 10 a.m. high tide could be the worst for the coast, as it coincides with a storm surge and heavy surf. Flooding and dune erosion are expected all along the coast.

Nee is one of a handful of Annapolis Way homeowners whose houses are in danger of crashing into the ocean after numerous storms, coupled with swelling high tides, carved away yards of sand over several years. In recent months, including a surprisingly powerful December storm, sand erosion became so problematic that the town’s building inspector warned that four homes could be lost.

Following the December surge, 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.

Helping Nee in his effort was next-door neighbor Bob Connors, whose house seemed to be more secure. Operating a small earth mover, Connors helped guide at least one column and driver into place.

“We’re going to be fine,” Connors predicted, saying the emergency measures put into place following December’s storm should make the difference — this time.

But Connors cautioned that Plum Island homes farther south could be in jeopardy as they have yet to be buffeted by the snake-like system of coir bags.

The mood elsewhere on Plum Island yesterday afternoon was far more sedate as residents and business owners matter-of-factly geared up for the storm’s appearance.

PI Beachcoma owner Gregg Pugh said he was excited for the storm’s arrival and expected to be open throughout the event.

“We can’t wait for tomorrow and Saturday to come our way,” Pugh said yesterday, adding he expected to attract many islanders within walking distance.

At Mr. Moe’s package store, Daniel Mahoney said he hadn’t noticed much concern from his regular customers despite believing at least some of the island would lose power as a result of the storm.

“People are just getting ready,” Mahoney said plainly.

Mahoney said the only question on his mind was whether authorities would call for a voluntary evacuation of the island like they did back in December when the storm flooded Plum Island Turnpike and closed other roads. Officials called for the voluntary evacuation fearing emergency vehicles wouldn’t be able to reach certain areas of the barrier island due to flooding.

“I think the old-timers would stay no matter what, they always do,” Mahoney said.

Indeed, judging by the lack of traffic and activity around lunchtime yesterday, there was scant evidence that a massive storm was roughly 24 hours away.

That did little to comfort Nee, however, as the worry over his beachfront house was apparent as he paced from the front yard to the beach area, watching as contractors did what they could on short notice to shore up his home.