EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 31, 2012

Shoring up Plum Island homes

Coir sandbags placed on beach; contractors stabilize foundation

By Dave Rogers
Staff Writer

---- — PLUM ISLAND — Efforts to shore up Annapolis Way houses in danger of falling into the ocean after a surprisingly powerful storm last week continued throughout the weekend with contractors placing tube-like coir sandbags in front of one home and wood cribbing underneath the foundation of another.

The emergency efforts, paid for by the homeowners themselves, with some assistance from the town, began hours after the town’s building inspector Sam Joslin deemed four houses, Nos. 29, 31, 35 and 37 Annapolis Way, uninhabitable Thursday afternoon. Immediately after, selectmen held an emergency meeting that stretched for several hours and included a 90-minute adjournment so officials could inspect the battered homes.

It is estimated the coir bags alone will cost between $120,000 and $140,000. The town will pitch in $10,000 for engineering costs related to the emergency efforts, according to state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, who heads the Merrimack River Beach Alliance.

Selectman Jeff Walker praised the homeowners for their efforts, saying they were not only helping preserve their homes but many nearby houses. Walker said that should frontal dunes along the endangered areas become breached, dozens of surrounding homes could also be in jeopardy.

“These homeowners are stepping forward,” Walker said. “What they are doing also helps the rest of residents on Plum Island.”

Yesterday morning, contractors were busy installing coir sandbags in front of 37 Annapolis Way as high tide brought the ocean mere yards away. Steel support columns holding up the back end of the expansive house looked remarkably bare and a staircase ended in mid-air, more than 8 feet above the beach.

Next door at 35 Annapolis Way, a crew from Granite State Building Movers were using small forklifts to transport hundreds of wood cribbing onto the beach. The cribbing, according to one of the contractors, will be placed underneath the foundation to stabilize it. It was expected that Granite State Building Movers workers would be back on Plum Island today shoring up 31 Annapolis Way, according to one of the contractors.

In addition to the surging hide tide, contractors contended with sub-freezing temperatures and a stiff wind that made the air feel even colder. Saturday’s winter storm, which saw a combination of rain and snow in the Greater Newburyport area, had little to no effect, according to Newbury Selectman Chairman Joe Story.

Of the four houses deemed uninhabitable, 31 Annapolis Way may have suffered the worst damage as the ocean ripped open gaping holes in the structure, sucking out furniture in the process. And where homeowners and occupants of the three other homes have been allowed to go in to retrieve belongings, Joslin has restricted all access to 31 Annapolis Way and ordered yellow tape strung across the front entrance.

The powerful storm, which dumped almost 4 inches of rain on the region beginning Wednesday evening, caused extensive flooding, especially during yesterday morning’s high tide, and temporarily closed Plum Island Turnpike and Plum Island Boulevard. As of yesterday, Plum Island Center remained closed to the public with yellow tape stretched from one corner of the lot to the other. A Newbury police officer was spotted yesterday overseeing emergency efforts and keeping curiosity seekers from getting too close to affected areas.

Story said yesterday Plum Island Center is being used by the contractors placing coir bags behind 37 Annapolis Way and will remain closed until the task is completed.

As recently as October, state and local officials expressed confidence that Annapolis Way homes were safer thanks to recent beach replenishment efforts known as beach scraping. But seemingly overnight last week, that expansive effort that required state and federal approval, appeared to be fruitless.