NEWBURYPORT — The City Council approved a $50,000 transfer from the Plum Island utility trust fund on Monday for a shoreline stabilization project on Reservation Terrace.
The money will be used to install and stack a row of sand-filled “super sacks” in the area where the dune previously stood along Reservation Terrace since homes and the neighborhood’s sewer system have grown increasingly vulnerable to storm surge.
“We’re very concerned about the upcoming storm season,” Mayor Donna Holaday said during the council’s meeting Monday night. “This is really critical that we mobilize as soon as possible on this project.”
The 10 councilors present voted unanimously to approve the order. Ward 3 Councilor Heather Shand was absent.
Councilor at large Charles Tontar noted the project is intended to “bide time” for the neighborhood’s residents for about “one or two years,” with the anticipation that a Merrimack River dredging project will be able to provide more long-term protection in the near future.
In 2019, the neighbors raised about $21,000 to buy 1,200 cubic yards of dredged sand to build a sacrificial berm between their homes and the ocean. But within a few weeks, autumn storms washed most of the sand away, leaving the neighborhood unprotected again.
Holaday previously told The Daily News the super sacks will be a more durable solution to the erosion issues than previous sand restoration projects.
Ward 1 Councilor Sharif Zeid noted there is “very little beach” during high tides, and that nearby homes and public infrastructure are very susceptible to damage from storm surge.
“We’re certainly at the point now where the need can be debated; it’s absolutely crucial,” Zeid said.
The council also approved an order allowing it to increase School Department expenditures as recommended by the School Committee.
The order calls for the adoption of an optional statute created by the state Legislature in 1987 that allows city councils to approve school budgets larger than what the mayor has submitted based on recommendations from the community’s school committee.
In a newsletter sent to Ward 2 residents, council President Jared Eigerman noted the order “cannot compel increased school funding this particular fiscal year” because the School Committee has not recommended it.
Eigerman noted that in 2015, the City Council adopted this same law, but the order was vetoed by Holaday. He said the council did not override the veto “because negotiations led to an extra $184,000 to our schools to pay a few full-time and several part-time staff.”
During the discussion, Tontar said the order could increase divisiveness among councilors and between the City Council and School Committee.
“My concern is that this raises the possibility of conflict,” Tontar said. “I see it as a change in the dynamic that could make the budget process much more difficult.”
The council ultimately voted 8-2 to approve the ordinance, with Tontar and Councilor Bruce Vogel in opposition.
In a statement submitted to The Daily News on Tuesday, Zeid said he was pleased with the order’s approval and expressed hope that Holaday will not veto it.
“A veto would be a move against good process for our schools,” Zeid said in the statement. “Hopefully, we can all agree that an open, transparent and collaborative process with appropriate checks and balances is always a great idea and never goes out of style. This proposal would deliver just that.”
Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newburyport City Hall. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.