NEWBURYPORT — As area elected officials and stakeholders work together to address the growing severity of erosion on Plum Island, some condemned the efforts of coastal homeowners trying to protect their properties, saying that causes problems elsewhere on the island.
Friday morning marked this year's first gathering of the Merrimack River Beach Alliance, which saw state Sens. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, and Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen; Rep. Jim Kelcourse, R-Amesbury; Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday and several others meet to discuss the plight of Plum Island.
During a presentation at the meeting's start, Ipswich-based scientist Bill Sargent said some people living along Plum Island's beaches have tried to correct erosion problems near their properties by placing large boulders. Those boulders have ultimately disrupted the flow of sand and led to severe erosion problems plaguing the island north of Plum Island Center, he said.
When pressed about the matter by an island resident, Tarr said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state Department of Conservation and Recreation are working toward an agreement on how to address the issue. Tarr also condemned residents' "rogue self-help efforts," urging coastal homeowners not to interfere with sand remediation.
"The fact that somebody out there resorted to the remedy of self-help is compromising the effectiveness of all of our efforts to and ability to address issues on Plum Island — all of them," Tarr said. "And it is costing considerable time and energy to address the situation ... and anybody involved with that paying attention to our discussion ... they need to understand the damage that they have done."
Tarr said officials are working on a long-term solution to correct the island's erosion problems, which would include gaining an understanding of the stone jetty's structure and how it affects the flow of sand.
There are large-scale remediation operations in the works, which would include dumping large quantities of sand at offshore spots in Salisbury and Newbury.
"We need to operate as a regional collaborative and not try to address things one thing at a time," Tarr said. "It's important that we move together on all three of those areas."
During the meeting Friday, Tarr noted that he and other officials met with members of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency in November to discuss the plight of the Reservation Terrace neighborhood.
Since then, he said the situation has worsened. One resident said a recent storm breached the neighborhood's berm and that he is sure the next storm would cause more serious flooding.
Holaday emphasized the urgency of Reservation Terrace's erosion issues and said she is optimistic about a recent change in leadership at the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
"One of the obstacles we've been experiencing is that we haven't felt DCR has been stepping up as the owner of the land," Holaday said, adding that the department's new interim commissioner, Jim Montgomery, "seems to understand the responsibilities in a way that seems to be moving things forward."
Holaday said local officials will meet again with MEMA representatives this week to discuss Plum Island and that she hopes to soon have a plan in place to protect Reservation Terrace in the short term.
Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newburyport City Hall. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.