NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

January 4, 2013

A longterm look at Plum Island's woes

Another storm has hit Plum Island and created a crisis for several homeowners, whose homes now totter on the edge of the dune.

This would seem to be a story that’s been told many times in the past few years. But this time it is different. This is the worst case of erosion-caused property damage that we have seen in the past decade, a period in which erosion has steadily destroyed several hundred yards of beachfront dunes.

In the past decade, given the number of headlines and reports about Plum Island’s woes, one might think that widespread property damage has occurred on the island. However, in that time only two waterfront homes have succumbed to dune erosion. The storm that struck last week threatens to increase that number dramatically, and that is what makes this most recent bout of erosion startling.

Despite efforts to use “beach scraping” to build up the dunes, four homes along Annapolis Way have been undermined by extensive erosion that literally scooped out large portions of the sand dune on which the homes sit. One house has lost about half of its foundation, and the others are in lesser stages of distress. There are at least another half dozen homes that are now precariously close to the steep edge of the dune. If another storm strikes with the same ferocity as the one that hit just after Christmas, we can expect that another swath of homes will be undermined.

Interestingly, it’s a different story a few hundred yards to the north, in the area where beach erosion had become a crisis a few years ago. The sand pumped onto the beach by the Army Corps of Engineers’ is largely holding its own, and in some areas, the dune appears to be gaining significant height. It is regrowing. Further north from here, a neighborhood that 40 years ago sat on the precipice of the dune is now 200 yards from the sea’s edge. The dune here is healthy and growing, and no homes have been built on the “regrown” dunes.

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