NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

December 6, 2012

Plum Island is an octopus's garden to be

My address is a lie.

What maps call “Plum Island” is really a glorified sandbar, a barrier beach to protect the mainland.

Our claim to “island” is as thin as the place itself, barely a Canadian football field wide for much of its 8.5-mile length. Boats circumnavigate at high tide, satisfying the dictionary, but run aground — or amud — at low.

This went unquestioned until 1980 when Gov. Edward King commissioned a study of barrier beaches.

Recognizing the inevitability of erosion, it proposed buy-outs for residents to relocate and a ban on further “development in hazard-prone barrier beach areas.”

Then came a bi-partisan tidal wave of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” and Michael Dukakis’ “Massachusetts Miracle,” a dual Zeitgeist of “You can have it all” that brooked no economic concessions to environmental concerns.

Economically speaking, the word “island” has swept away more than one barrier.

Cottages outgrew all flora and fauna. Some were built over or were jacked up and built under. Others remained intact until additions were habitable, and then disappeared in favor of larger, more stylish additions to the additions.

By the early `90s, the transformation was complete. What was ridiculed as “Slum Island” well into the `70s now sported a long row of beachfront McMansions.

With no connection to municipal water, we drew slightly salted groundwater for bathrooms and kitchen sinks.

For drinking, a fire hydrant was tapped nine months each year on the mainland side of the only bridge that connects us. Winter was, well, different.

Unwilling to cope with such inconvenience, new residents pushed for a water and sewer project. Older residents, still cognizant of Gov. King’s study, not to mention their own eyes and common sense, fought them for at least 15 years.

Getting the hook-up required deft tactical maneuvers. At the April 2001 Newbury Town Meeting, stick-on dots served as proof of residency. Seeing they were outnumbered, proponents “lost” their dots.

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