NEWBURYPORT — The Merrimack River Beach Alliance yesterday focused on a substance that might be at the core of its community mission: sand.
Members discussed a proposed Piscataqua River dredge project to provide needy beaches with inexpensive sand, a potential dredging program on the river side near Plum Island Point, and a university project that has been initiated to measure how much sand is building up or sliding away from different sections of the island.
The Piscataqua River project is envisioned to remove excess sand from the New Hampshire river (near Portsmouth), and transport it south so it can be added to beaches in Salisbury and Plum Island that are losing sand through erosion.
Town officials from Salisbury have said that parts of their beach need sand badly, or the town will lose its appeal as a tourist destination.
Engineers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Friday said they approve of the project in concept, but many local, state and permits must be acquired.
State officials say that about 350,000 cubic feet of sand could be available, and that the tentative plan is to dump it offshore so that it can be naturally pushed toward the beaches.
State Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, who co-chairs the MRBA, said that receiving towns will have to pay a portion of the cost.
One state official estimated it could cost in the range of $2 per cubic yard, and thus communities like Salisbury, Newburyport and Newbury would have to find funds to complement what is expected to be a state contribution.
No estimate of cost to the communities has been made.
Members of the state Coastal Zone Management said they would like to have permits, paperwork and financial instruments in their office by Jan 1, 2017, and Tarr urged local officials to discuss how they will raise money.
It was said that Salisbury would receive 75 percent of the harvested sand since Plum Island received 75 percent the last time it was done.
One area that has too much sand is the the area near the river's mouth where tour boats such as the Captain's Lady are docked.
Tour boat owner George Charos is developing a plan to remove the excess, and provide it to nearby beaches that are losing sand. He was urged to work with the city of Newburyport to acquire appropriate permits.
In a separate matter, conservation officials said that scientists from the University of New Hampshire are sinking poles into the sand to measure how much is gained or lost in a given season.
Several homeowners suggested that the presence of metal signposts are at odds with the natural look of a beach, but community officials indicated they will continue the study so that they can provide proof of beach damage after future storms.
With proof in hand, they could apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for financial aid to build up beaches.
One aspect of sand that was not addressed was the possible dredging of the mouth of the Merrimack.
Corps of Engineers' Ed O'Donnell was asked if the Corps could dredge the river now that the south and north jetties have been rebuilt.
The engineer said studies are being done but he declined to provide an affirmative answer to the veiled request for a dredging of the shallow entrance.