By Dyke Hendrickson
---- — NEWBURY — Civic leaders on Plum Island are launching a drive to sign up oceanfront homeowners for a sand mining program — but it could cost close to $8,000 to participate.
Marc Sarkady, who heads the Plum Island Foundation, yesterday told members of the Merrimack River Beach Alliance that his group would like to develop a program to dig sand out of the beach and redirect it to bolster dunes to protect residences.
This sand mining has been discussed in the past, and Kenneth Kimmell, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, yesterday said he was interested in the concept.
“We want to start a pilot program, assess it, and if it works expand it to from the center groin to the (federal wildlife) refuge,” said Sarkady, a lawyer who owns an oceanside home on the island. “The estimate that we have is that it would cost about $8,000 per house.”
There are about 30 houses on that stretch of beach, and Sarkady said, “We need everyone because to participate because to dig out the area in front of a few houses could create an uneven situation elsewhere.”
The “mining” would involve digging 8 to 10 feet in depth, and 20 to 30 feet in width. About 600 to 700 cubic yards of sand would be taken from the beach at low tide, and moved toward homes in an effort to create protective dunes.
Kimmell, who was on Plum Island yesterday, commented that he is open to the idea, “because I have heard from island residents that it has worked successfully in the past.”
Sarkady indicated that it could be challenging to get homeowners to contribute such a sum for mining.
Many seaside property owners have already contributed to the importation of tons of boulders and truckloads of sand brought in last spring to fortify the disappearing dunes. Plus, some are repairing houses damaged in last winter’s storms.
But Sarkady indicated he is determined to try.
Members of the Corps of Army Engineers said yesterday they make a decision on whether to approve such a plan, after reviewing all of the information.
Joe Story, chairman of the town’s Board of Selectmen, asked Ed O’Donnell, chief, navigation section, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, if federal authorities would approve a sand mining plan.
“If this idea is a non-starter with you, we’d rather hear it now,” Story said, during the meeting.
O’Donnell replied, “We haven’t seen an application so I can’t say.” He said the application “would have to be reviewed by other federal agencies including Fish and Wildlife, and National Fisheries.”
Sarkady said he will develop data and and continue to work with the DEP in an effort to activate the mining program.
Sarkady said that island homeowners interested in joining the sand mining program can contact him.
On a separate matter, O’Donnell said that continuation of reconstructive work on the south jetty on the north end of the island will likely start in mid-October. Request for bids will go out next month.
O’Donnell said the decision whether to transport the rock over the sand dunes, or in from the ocean, will be up to the contractor.