, Newburyport, MA


February 14, 2014

Lessons learned and forgotten

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.

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