, Newburyport, MA

January 8, 2013

Attempts to save PI houses are futile

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

A few years ago I was invited to give a talk about erosion at the Aquarium of the Pacific in California. In the lecture I described a system the Coastlines Project had devised to use cameras to provide Chatham homeowners with daily erosion reports. I could tell homeowners that they had between eight and 10 days, then five and six days, then two and three days before their houses would be washed away.

I explained that eventually we were able to fine-tune the system so we could help the homeowners move their houses out of harm’s way. In the end the homeowners spent over $100,000 to move the last five remaining camps into a new village a tenth of a mile up the beach. But then a late, unexpected, June storm had washed the entire village away.

After I finished my talk somebody asked, “Don’t you have any laws back there in Massachusetts?” The question took me aback. It was exactly the “Aha” moment I needed. Suddenly I realized I had become so caught up in saving the houses that I had lost sight of the ultimate futility of the endeavor.

I believe some Plum Island homeowners and officials should have arrived at the same “Aha” moment. You have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight the forces of nature, and now you are contemplating spending hundreds of thousands more. Beach scraping only increased the rate of erosion and putting down rocks and hunks of cement will only increase it more. By next summer there could be no beach and no houses in front of Annapolis Way, and only an empty seawall that will further jeopardize downstream homes.

It is a tragic situation, and one that will reverberate through homeowners’ families for generations to come. But it is time for everyone to step back, take a deep breath and realize you can’t win this fight against the inevitable forces of Mother Nature. The only way to prevent future heartache is to realize that you have put up a valiant fight, but you are up against an implacable foe.

Bill Sargent