By Dyke Hendrickson
---- — PLUM ISLAND — After weeks of frenetic activity, residents and construction crews alike seem to be taking a break from storm repair on Plum Island, as both the south and north ends of island are silent as the plovers prepare to nest.
In mid to late March, the beachfront along Annapolis Way and Fordham Way, where storm-surge erosion had destroyed homes and ripped away sand dunes, looked like a rock quarry. Thousands of rocks of all sizes had been dumped along the edge of the dune, creating a rugged “armor” that is intended to prevent more erosion.
The noise of heavy equipment and clatter of rocks rumbling against one another is now gone, replaced by the usual pre-summer quiet. But what’s more surprising is how the beach’s appearance has transformed.
Now, the high-tide mark appears to have dunes again, and few of the thousands of boulders are visible.
“Sand, compatible sand, was trucked in by local vendors,” said Joe Story, chairman of the Newbury Selectman.
Marc Sarkady, who heads the Plum Island Foundation, said, “There seems to have been a mix of beach and (other sand). It looks like there are dunes there again.”
The placement of imported sand is separate from a proposal to “mine” sand from the beach’s low tide area, for which residents have requested permission. Story said that local officials have not received a decision from the Department of Environmental Protection about a formal proposal that they have put before state officials.
Mining would involve heavy equipment moving sand from below the low tide mark to the high-tide line as a means of fortifying the dunes.
Ed Coletta, a spokesman for the state DEP, Friday stated that no decisions have been made.
“There is a lot of information to review. Right now we don’t have a date as to when a decision will be made,” he said.
Officials of the Plum Island Foundation, an island-based nonprofit formed by local residents, say that rock and sand was trucked onto the beach is at the expense of Plum Island homeowners, not the town.
Numerous fences have also been installed on beaches, as a measure to hold the sand in place.
Newbury town officials are working with homeowners in an attempt to rebuild what can be rebuilt.
Sam Joslin, Newbury’s building inspector, has said that one of the town’s solutions is for homeowners to raise structures on stanchions to evade high water in the future.
Joslin stated that about 30 houses had been under duress after the last of the winter storms surged onto the beach.
Six houses are gone. Six more are in the process of being elevated. About seven more “will be fairly easy to elevate or move to another part of the property.”
Joslin said that about 11 houses will have problems, because the parcel is too small for relocation or the structure is too unstable to elevate.
He urged homeowners to come to his office and work with town officials on solutions.
One structure that is being studied is Blue, the high-end seaside hotel. Attempts to reach the manager, David Geiger, to inquire about the hotel’s future were unsuccessful.
As homeowners and Newbury officials wait for the DEP to pass judgment on a plan to mine sand, work to strengthen jetties at the north end is coming to an end for the season.
A construction team from Hugo Key & Son Inc., is wrapping up its work to fortify the south jetty of the Merrimack River by its April 15 deadline.
The company has been working on a $3.5 million federal contract to bring in large stones, raise the height of the jetty and make the structure stronger in an effort to control storm surge and limit erosion.
Managers said they have reworked about 600 feet of the jetty, and are concluding work because the contract required construction to stop in deference to the mating of piping plovers.
“We received an extension (until April 15) and right now we are concluding operations,” said Hugo Key, who was recently supervising clean-up efforts.
He declined to say whether his firm, based in Newport, R.I., would be bidding on an additional $5.5 million federal contract to finish work on the south jetty. It is about 1,200 feet long, according to state officials.
Work to finish the job could start in the fall, according to engineers at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
HK & S has removed rock, originally from Seabrook, from the refuge parking which had act as a staging area.
Managers indicated the parking lot and playground will be ready for summer when visitors arrive.