NEWBURY — Town leaders are at a loss over what to do about a continued trash problem at Plum Island Center. In the latest of a long history of illegal dumping in the area, a pet waste disposal unit installed near the entrance to the public beach is being filled with household and other non-pooch-related trash.
Board of Health Chairman Steve Fram said on Friday his board does not plan to take any immediate action, but he has contacted the Public Works Department about more frequent pick ups. Police have agreed to randomly monitor the area.
“If they get a registration number, they can cite them for littering,” Fram said.
Littering at Center Island has been a long-standing problem. In July 2014, resident Ellen Daly sounded the alarm to selectmen over what she called “a critical situation on Plum Island Beach” created by increased use coupled with budget cuts to beach-related services. Prior to eight years ago, necessities for the public beach, such as portable toilets, life guards, beach cleaning, and regular trash pick up were funded through the town’s operating budget. But the repeated failure by voters to pass tax overrides for the budget in recent years eliminated these services.
In 2015 the Health Board requested raising littering fines from $100 to $300 per offense and reported increased problems with dog feces left on the beach or being bagged and thrown into the Great Marsh. Selectmen opted instead to beef up police surveillance.
That fall, voters rejected funding for a summertime enforcement officer to monitor the area. Instead, a committee was formed in December 2015 to take a broader look at services the island lacks. The Plum Island Committee brainstormed several possible revenue sources to cover these extra municipal needs on the island, including contributions from local businesses, parking fees, a tax on tourism or rental properties, and even installing a toll after the bridge at the entrance to the island.
A dumpster sponsored by the Plum Island Foundation was ordered removed by the Board of Health because people were illegally using it to get rid of household trash – including in one case an old sofa. Around the same time, Plum Island businesses chipped in to provide beachside restroom facilities at a cost of around $1,200 per season. But the port-a-potties were removed after people started using them to dump trash.
Last spring voters approve almost $4,000 to reinstall and maintain the trash container and public bathrooms for the summer.
Last July, repeated cases of vandalism, littering and unsanitary treatment prompted the Board of Health to again ask selectmen to order the removal of the dumpster and port-a-potties. Of the five signs posted to encourage respectful use of the port-a-potties, four were stolen, the dumpster was twice replaced due to vandalism, and the bathrooms were being used as a dumping ground for items such as fast food containers and dirty diapers.
The services were eventually removed after Labor Day but the pet waste disposal unit was kept so dog walkers using the beach would be encouraged to clean up after their pets.
“Town officials have tried to help accommodate the Newbury residents and their visitors; the trash left behind is very discouraging and disrespectful,” said health agent Deborah Rogers.