EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 12, 2013

On island, 40 homes deemed 'at risk'

By Dyke Hendrickson

---- — NEWBURY — Town officials yesterday reported that more than three dozen houses on Plum Island are in the “at risk” category, and an inventory shows that others have been destroyed or dismantled.

Tracy Blais, town administrator, spoke yesterday at a meeting of the Merrimack River Beach Alliance. She said that 40 houses are “at risk,” 13 homes have lost their occupancy permits, six dwellings are “severely” damaged and three residences have been destroyed and dismantled.

Town officials joined state representatives in seeking immediate assistance and collaboration from state authorities to respond to the damage caused by beachfront erosion.

A letter recently was sent to Gov. Deval Patrick that said, in part, “Plum Island, like other shore communities, continues to search for long-term solutions, and we ask for your partnership in this quest.

“We respectfully ask that you summon all available state resources to assist these communities, and find a solution to address this matter.”

It was signed by state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, state Rep. Lenny Mirra, R-West Newbury, and Joe Story, chairman of the town’s Board of Selectmen.

Though many oceanside residences on Annapolis Way and Fordham Way are under duress, no consensus emerged yesterday on what corrective action can be taken.

Several homeowners stated they want permission to take heavy machinery on the beach and “mine” significant amounts of sand so it can be captured at low tide and brought west to replenish the dunes.

Cheryl Jones-Comeau, of 40 Fordham Way, said that in the ’70s, local residents had excavated holes “of a size to bury a battleship” and taken that sand to build up the nearby dune.

“It works,” she said. “It’s been done and it was effective. And now, we need the dune back.”

But Tarr and others cautioned that scraping and “mining” require permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

He warned emotional homeowners that they would be responsible for their own actions if DEP later rules that their scraping and/or placement of hard structures such as concrete walls are ruled illegal.

Tarr said that residents excavating sand on their own might threaten the properties of nearby homeowners.

The cost of demolishing and removing a structure accrues to the homeowners, town officials say.

On the matter of cost, residents whose oceanside homes are still standing say they are willing to pay for more scraping and/or infusions of sand, but said they were frustrated that they need state approvals to proceed.

Though the state has extended scraping permits in recent months, a separate permit must be obtained each time a homeowner wants to move sand.

Homeowners called for an end to the “one-time-only” approach to granting permits to move sand.

Numerous residents stressed that state regulations must be loosened to enable them to save their homes.

Local and state officials agreed with their concern, but the lawmakers said that until changes occur, the regulations of the state DEP should be followed.

They encouraged residents to call the northeast division of the DEP to request rule exceptions.