The most welcoming news for both Newburyport and Salisbury this week was the assured forthcoming of $10 million from the federal government for the rebuilding of the Merrimack River’s north jetty.
Major redevelopment of that jetty will greatly enhance not only Salisbury’s beach, but Plum Island’s as well — just as it did in the Sixties.
Monday’s news account sent me to my file of a column written in September of 2002.
That commented upon a visit with the late Ray Walton.
He was an engineer who lived much of his life on Plum Island during which, in the 1960s, he became chairman of the Plum Island Beach Erosion Committee.
In September of 2002 we stood on what was then a considerably larger dune than now protects buildings along the southernmost section of Newburyport’s share of Plum Island.
The jetties are a team, with Plum Island being more dependent upon the condition of Salisbury’s jetty than Salisbury is upon Plum Island’s because of its greater reach and the direction of prevailing storm winds.
One has only to visit the shore base of Salisbury’s during a northeasterly gale at high tide to remark the storm surge of water over its jetty breaking through Plum Island’s to see the relevance.
Salisbury’s is not only nearly double the size of Plum Island’s, it makes a considerable sharp turn to the northeast while Plum Island’s goes straight out to sea.
Response by the federal government to the appeal of a half-century ago was to do the Salisbury jetty first. That didn’t happen.
What follows is taken — in part — from a column written in 2002 relating to that effort:
... There was a time — early 1960s — when saving the Island we know was in doubt because winter storms over the years nearly made two islands of the one by breaking through to the basin.
Emergency measures like sandbagging and bulldozing sand barriers have been tried storm after storm but are temporary measures ...
Sooner or later the ocean would win, the basin would have a new mouth, and a bridge would be needed to connect the two islands remaining ...
Thursday of last week Ray and I stood where, 35 years ago, we would have been treading water and yelling for help. It is now a marshy grass-covered barrier beach as solid as Plum Island has to offer.
His former cottage, razed to make room for a new one when he sold it in the mid-1980s, had stood a hundred feet or so back from where we were standing.
Then came the great storm waves that swallowed neighboring cottages and brought the wave-after spill to his front porch.
Plum Island Taxpayers and Associates made their stand by forming the Beach Erosion Committee and named Ray Walton chairman, and he said this:
“You don’t notice it much unless you look for it, but waves break on the beach at an angle to the wind, and each wave — even the small ones — pick up some sand and move it. Ocean currents help, and wind direction too, but the sand is always shifting.
“The predominant movement in storms has been to move sand from one side of the groin jetties and deposit it on the other. When the groin jetties are exposed, the evidence is right there at hand, and because the predominant wind is easterly, the shift is from left to right as you face the ocean, leaving scalloping of the beach pronounced.’’
The proof of that is available by visiting the southerly end of Plum Island at low tide. The movement of ocean-carried sand is southerly.
That won’t change.
Given that it is good news indeed for both Plum Island and Salisbury that the northernmost jetty will be made whole once more. Without that, Plum Island’s, however well restored, would face a much shorter life.
Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.