NEWBURYPORT -- The Merrimack River Beach Alliance yesterday launched a short-term, long-term approach to sand build-up and sand erosion on Plum Island, taking immediate action on dredging and plantings proposals while continuing to pursue a paperwork offensive to acquire state and federal permits and funding.

The MRBA is a loosely knit organization of local, state and federal officials that has assumed a paternal guidance role in dealing with Mother Nature as it relates to local coastal erosion, sand aggregation and storm destruction.

On the short term, boat owner George Charos was given permission to initiate dredging near his docks at Plum Island Point.

The Charos family runs both whale-watch cruises and deep-sea fishing trips.

They use their docks on Plum Island to harbor about four vessels, ranging in length from 65 feet to 106 feet.

The water level where the boats are tied up during the season has gotten so shallow that Charos asked for emergency relief so that he can dredge sand at his own expense.

"The depth of the water is about three feet at low tide," said Charos. "I cannot bring my boats in and out of my docks with such shallow conditions."

State conservation officials at the meeting said a small emergency dredge would not harm wildlife, and assented to his emergency request.

Charos said he would be talking with dredging contractors within the week.

Destination of the dredged sand was not finalized but officials said it may be dumped on city parking lots on the island as a temporary measure.

In another short-term action, city officials said that about 100 Newburyport fourth-graders will be planting grasses and other vegetation on April 25 with the intent to strengthen dunes and beaches.

Residents of Reservation Terrace have expressed concern that tides are taking away sand just north of the south jetty. They have asked for help in filling "paths" through the dunes through which tidal water might seep.

Numerous houses are below the level of the dunes, and homeowners fear the arrival of saltwater during a storm.

MRBA members express support for the school project.

In long-range projects, a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said that a federal grant to study the dynamics of the river mouth has been approved, and it could start in early summer.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel in Vicksburg, Miss., will attempt to discern why some parts of Plum Island and Salisbury are losing sand, while other sections (like the Charos site) are aggregating it.

During the discussion of erosion at Reservation Terrace, a manager with the Department of Conservation and Recreation said state officials are not enthusiastic about a municipal plan to hire a firm to provide synthetic barriers for the shoreline at the Terrace.

But Tarr said local officials should not give up on the idea of utilizing "soft" erosion control techniques by NETCO, a Lexington firm that provides solutions to coastal erosion, to defend against powerful tides.

Some Plum Island residents have said that erosion has increased since the north and south jetties were rebuilt.

Town, city and state officials are seeking permits -- some that come with grant money -- to launch studies and propose solutions.

But working through numerous layers of state and federal regulations takes time, and thus the MRBA's pursuit of a long-term strategy.

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