PLUM ISLAND — Sharon Bresnahan stood on her neighbor’s deck, struggling to come to grips with the sight of her family’s house lying in ruins on the beach.
“It’s very upsetting,” Bresnahan said. “It’s a family home that we’ve had for 44 years, and never in my wildest thoughts did I think it would be tipped over into the sea.”
The Bresnahan house at 31 Annapolis Way, where Sharon and her husband Steve lived, tumbled over the edge of the dune early Saturday morning after rolling waves and debris from other houses washed away the sand from underneath it and compromised its foundation.
Crews using heavy cranes and excavators demolished what remained shortly after the Saturday morning high tide receded, leaving behind only the memories of childhood summers spent at the family home.
Sharon’s mother Cecilia Azzarito bought the house in 1968, back when it was little more than a summer cottage. The family extensively renovated it over time, and it had an assessed value of $692,300 before it was demolished, according to Newbury tax records.
“We put a lot of money into it, and it’s more sentimental,” Bresnahan said. “It’s where my roots are.”
The fate of the Bresnahan house, along with several others farther down the beach, would have been hard to predict a couple of years ago, when the homes were all protected by a dune tall enough that it obscured the view of the ocean for some residents. Over time, however, the erosion problem on Plum Island migrated southward, and the dune was steadily chewed back.
“It’s not a complete shock. For several years we’ve had this problem, but you still don’t expect it to happen,” Bresnahan said. “You expect, ‘OK, we got a blow but we’ll rebuild, we’ll fix it, we’ll make that foundation stronger,’ but now it’s going to be demolished.”
The problem escalated into a full-on crisis over the past few months after a succession of storms washed away huge swaths of the beach and left the homes teetering closer and closer to the edge.
Plum Island homeowners have pleaded for help from state and federal agencies, but so far their calls have fallen on deaf ears.
“They’ve done nothing to help us, nothing,” Bresnahan said. “Everything we’ve done to try to protect our homes has been out of our own pockets, no help from anyone.”
Prior to February’s blizzard, residents paid to have coir bags installed along the dune to protect their homes. The 40-foot-long sandbags formed a protective wall against the surf, but have taken a beating and weren’t able to save some of the vulnerable homes.
Bob Connors, who lives at 39 Annapolis Way, said Newbury officials and vulnerable homeowners have tried to prompt action from higher authorities but have often met resistance from environmental agencies and gotten bogged down in red tape.
For instance, earlier this week, each of the threatened homes down the beach received a letter from the state Department of Fisheries and Wildlife notifying them that their request to install coir bags at the base of the dune was being reviewed to ensure that the federally protected piping plover wouldn’t be affected by doing so.
“Issuance of an Order of Conditions approving the project is inconsistent with the interests of the [Wetlands Protection Act] and no work or other activities related to the subject filing should be conducted anywhere on this project site until the [Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program] has completed its review,” the letter read.
For Plum Island residents who have already seen two houses plunge over the dune, a third demolished due to erosion damage and dozens of others left in imminent danger, this response was panned as tone deaf at best and insulting at worst.
“We’ve been asking for help, there’s been a major erosion problem for a long, long time, and the only thing they’re concerned about is their piping plovers,” Bresnahan said.
Bresnahan added that she hopes the latest turn of events may finally spur the government into action, but isn’t holding her breath.
“I would certainly hope so … but I have no faith in the government right now, I have no faith whatsoever,” Bresnahan said. “That they would let it come to this is unbelievable.”