Newbury officials check beach conditions

Courtesy photoTown and state officials review Plum Island Beach prior to attending a Merrimack River Beach Alliance meeting last week.

NEWBURY — Just days before a meeting to discuss short-term fixes and emergency action plans for the ongoing beach erosion and flooding on Plum Island, selectmen Chairman JR Colby and colleague Geoff Walker — along with other town and state officials — headed seaside to check out the conditions.

Also participating in the beach review were Town Administrator Tracy Blais, Conservation Agent Doug Packer and Police Chief Michael Reilly, as well as state officials and representatives from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, according to Colby.

A group of Newbury officials and other residents then met with the local beach preservation group — the Merrimack River Beach Alliance — to brainstorm solutions to the island’s chronic erosion issues as the winter months approach.

In the past, the MRBA was instrumental in advocating for repairs to the barrier island’s jetties and with dredging, sand replenishment and other beach revitalization efforts.

Addressing the concerns of local property owners while adhering to strict state and federal environmental guidelines can be a challenge, but it’s one for which Colby feels Walker — with his years of dedicated work aimed at helping to restore the Great Marsh — is supremely qualified to lead.

An 11-mile stretch of land situated where the Merrimack River runs into the Atlantic, Plum Island is particularly susceptible to the pounding damage exacted by nor’easters — storms typically most violent between September and April that have been made worse in recent years by the rising sea levels associated with climate change.

“We must act and act now to save houses,” said Selectman Michael Doyle, who attended the MRBA meeting with Walker last week.

“The process must be streamlined and respond to the curveballs Mother Nature throws at us,” he said.

Although the agenda for the selectmen meeting Tuesday was not yet finalized, Colby said Wednesday it was likely the topic of Plum Island planning would be included for discussion.

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