Sargent's view: Another pig in a poke

Courtesy photo/Mike MorrisA U.S. Coast Guard photo shows construction of the spur of the south jetty on Plum Island in 1970. Three-quarters of it is now covered with sand. 

I hate to sound like I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth, but the Army Corps of Engineers is about to serve us up with yet another nice, big, fat pig in a poke.

The Corps doesn’t have a very good track record of late. After spending $14 billion to upgrade New Orleans, they now admit the city’s levees will be underwater in four short years.

After spending $24 million to repair the Merrimack River’s jetties, the Corps left 150 Northern Terrace homes vulnerable to flooding.

But at a recent MRBA meeting, they cherry-picked data to say that a 20-year natural cycle of erosion had caused the problem. It just happened to coincide with their cutting off the natural flow of sand!

Instead of admitting they had made an easily fixable mistake, they are now proposing to repair the spur of the jetty. But they don’t have a very good record with the spur, either.

In 1969, the Corps built the spur to protect the old Coast Guard station. How well did that work? The station had to be removed less than a year later.

The spur actually increased erosion by accelerating waves so they whipped around the end of the spur to undermine the station.

To avoid repeating the problem, the spur would have to be extended all the way along Northern Terrace so no houses would be susceptible to such end scour.

This would ruin the beach for swimming and the shore for fishing, thus damaging the two most valuable natural resources on the popular northern end of the island. Plus, the newly repaired spur will be quickly buried as the jetty continues to settle and sand flows northward again.

The Corps would be creating new problems instead of fixing the old problem that they caused by thwarting the natural flow of sand.

Instead of adding several hundred new boulders to repair the spur, they could remove half a dozen old boulders so sand would flow from the ocean beach to Northern Reservation Terrace through the jetty once again.

But they would have to admit they had made a mistake, which could make them liable for up to $10 million in repairs.

It is difficult for local and state officials desperately seeking answers not to be swayed by the imperial authority and can-do spirit of the Corps.

But before we make the same mistake twice, it will heed us to be skeptical of yet another hard solution to a simple problem that nature is already solving as we speak.

Bill Sargent is a North Shore science writer and contributing columnist. His most recent book, "Plum Island 2018: Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back," is available in local bookstores and through http://plumislandoutdoors.org and www.ingramcontent.com.

 

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