, Newburyport, MA


March 11, 2013

On Plum Island, old ways are in jeopardy


In many ways, we are returning to the island of the mid-1970s, when it reeled from erosion crisis to erosion crisis. At that time, there was a serious discussion of having the entire island bought by the government, the homes torn down and the land restored to a wild barrier beach. But by the late 1970s, the beach did what it often does — sand moved, dunes rebuilt, old wounds disappeared and the crisis ended.

We can be hopeful that we have seen the last of the storms and that the healing process will begin as the gentler tides of the summer “grow” the beaches, as they have done in the past. Perhaps the other forces at work on the island, such as the movement of offshore sandbars, will once again rebuild the beach and dunes.

But no one can be sure of any of these things.

The longterm discussions need to be taking place, even as we deal with the short-term damage and emergency measures. Is it wise to allow homes to be rebuilt so close to the edge of a dune? Should there be a stronger effort to create a seaside buffer zone free of houses, one on which a healthy and protective dune can be established?

Times are changing. No longer is Plum Island a collection of small cottages and shacks that can be easily moved, or pose little loss when swept into the sea. There is a much heavier investment there now, and the plan moving forward ought to reflect that.

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