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Sand dredged off Plum Island to prevent flooding; residents want long-term solution

Equipment was set up at Reservation Terrace on Plum Island to dredge for the first time in eight years in an effort to combat flooding and erosion.

Posted on January 2, 2023

As the ocean’s churn threatens homes on Plum Island, crews are working to reinforce the beaches with more than 200,000 cubic yards of sand.

For the residents of the 11-mile-long, half-mile-wide barrier island, which is split between Newbury and Newburyport, erosion is a major concern. When a Nor’easter hits, flood waters inundate the Reservation Terrace neighborhood, according to Mark Wright, a Plum Island resident and a Newburyport city councilor at large.

“We’ve had as much as four feet of sand placed by the [flood water] in our garage,” Wright said. “One of our neighbor’s homes is currently uninhabitable. Another neighbor has just taken his house down because they couldn’t save it.”

At least one home on the island suffered heavy damage when Winter Storm Elliott moved across the region recently. The powerful storm washed away a wall off the rear of the house and left the second floor cantilevered from the damage, the Newburyport Fire Department said in a statement. The home, which is vacant and sits at 15 73rd St., is expected to be demolished next year, the statement said.

A dredging project underway aims to shore up protection for coastal properties.

The Army Corps of Engineers and H&L Contracting finished dredging a 9-foot-deep channel in the harbor leading into the Merrimack River on Nov. 23 and plan to dredge a 15-foot-deep channel when the weather clears up, Wright said.

Plum Island, MA — Equipment is set up at Reservation Terrace on Plum Island to dredge for the first time in eight years as a way to combat flooding and erosion.

The sand from those dredges — around 226,000 cubic yards — will be used to bolster the beaches of Reservation Terrace, according to Mark Sarkady, president of the Plum Island Foundation, a local nonprofit.

“We lost one house earlier this year when waves knocked it right off its foundation. This is incredibly important,” said Newburyport’s mayor, Sean Reardon, in a statement.

While Sarkady is happy about the project, he said it’s only a temporary solution. The rock jetties that lead into the Merrimack River, steering water away from Reservation Terrace, were rebuilt in 2014, but the “spur” that used to break the waves was not, Sarkady said. Between 2014 and 2021, Reservation Terrace lost more than 300 feet of beach, he said.

“The water was literally coming over the edge of what was a very, very small beach, onto the road, and into homes across the way, flooding both homes and basements, as well as endangering the infrastructure of the water and sewer system,” Sarkady said. “So it became clear that this dramatic rate of erosion required something be done.”

Rebuilding the spur would disrupt the swirling ocean currents that accelerate erosion, he said.

The dredging project is scheduled to be finished by late March, city officials said. Crews are slated to work around-the-clock every day of the week, the Coast Guard said in a notice to mariners in the area.

study conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers in January 2021 found that without dredging the shoreline, residents would continue to be at severe risk as the beach retreats. A previous study estimated the beach along Reservation Terrace was losing 53 feet a year.

“Sea level rise is a major concern in Newburyport, as we are a city that borders an ocean and river,” Reardon said. “Plum Island will continue to change, and the residents out there will need to continue to adapt. The dredge project is only the first step.”

On Oct. 31, officials from the Army Corps of Engineers took part in a “Sand Breaking” event to provide information on the project, according to Bryan Purtell, a spokesman for the Army Corps’s New England District.

The project is meant to provide protection to the “most critical at-risk sections of Plum Island beaches and to reestablish and protect public beach, public infrastructure, and private homes,” Purtell said. The project does not involve the jetty spur, he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers will conduct another study to determine what needs to be done about the spur, Reardon said.

“Otherwise, all this sand we just replenished will be gone in a few years,” he said.



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