By Mac Cerullo
---- — PLUM ISLAND — The latest storm to strike Plum Island proved to be a knockout blow for two Annapolis Way homes, which will be torn down later this morning after suffering catastrophic damage during yesterday’s ferocious morning high tide.
The houses at 37 and 41 Annapolis Way were each condemned after high seas washed away the dune from underneath them, compromising their foundations and rendering them a danger to the public. Three other houses suffered significant structural damage in the storm and at least a dozen were left teetering perilously close to the edge.
The house at 41 Annapolis Way suffered the worst fate, toppling over the edge shortly after yesterday’s 8:30 a.m. high tide hit. It sat at a 45-degree angle, half on the dune and half on the beach, with wreckage and personal belongings spilling out into the waves that lashed at it.
While Tom Nee’s residence at 37 Annapolis Way was still standing, virtually all the engineering that had been to shore up the house after it was damaged by the Blizzard of 2013 was gone.
“We couldn’t anticipate a storm like this coming and doing the damage that it did,” said Sam Joslin, Newbury’s Building Inspector. “So that work was for naught and the house is in worse shape than it was prior to repairs.”
Yesterday’s storm was the latest in a string of devastating storms to hit Plum Island over the past few months, including Hurricane Sandy, a surprisingly strong December storm, and then the blizzard.
Bob Connors, who lives between the two houses at 39 Annapolis Way, said he couldn’t recall Plum Island ever experiencing this many storms in such quick succession, and it’s taking its toll.
“I don’t think the storm is as bad [as the Blizzard], but we have a fully compromised coastal dune system now so we have absolutely no storm protection,” Connors said. “So these homes are at risk at every tide.”
The ruined house at 41 Annapolis Way was owned by Steve and Lucy Bandoian, who are spending the winter in Florida and were not home when the house fell. It was built in 1981 and was valued at $168,900, according to town assessor records. It replaced a building that was damaged during the Blizzard of ‘78.
The home was one of about seven that has been previously posted as unstable by the building inspector. It had been teetering on the edge all morning, and Kevin Baez, one of Connor’s employees, was there the moment the house began to fall.
“I was down between the railings taking pictures because there was an overhang and the ocean was coming up underneath it, and before my eyes it just went,” Baez said. “It’s something you hate to see happen, and it’s tough to see. It’s not something you see everyday, it was pretty amazing.”
The other houses that suffered structural damage were at 31 Annapolis Way and 36 and 38 Fordham Way. Joslin said the town would need to assess the situation at those houses before determining whether or not they could be saved.
With so many homes at risk of falling over the dune’s edge, Newbury Police declared a local state of emergency and announced that they would be closing the beach from Center Island southwards towards blue, the Inn on the Beach for the foreseeable future in order to keep residents safe.
Chief Michael Reilly said officers would be patrolling the beach and warned that anyone caught on the beach would be subject to criminal charges of trespassing.
“We have structures that are ready to tumble, we have debris in the water, we want to keep as many people off the beach as possible,” Reilly said. “I know this weekend is going to be a beautiful weekend, so it’s going to be difficult to try and keep people off the beach, and we’re hoping the public will help us.”
Police and National Guard troops restricted access to Annapolis Way after the house collapsed, and after the tide receded some vulnerable homeowners tried shoring up their homes in any way they could. Many expressed frustration that they hadn’t gotten the chance to earlier.
“We have proposed many solutions, all privately funded, and we just continue to hit roadblock after roadblock [from the state and federal agencies],” Connors said shortly after high tide. “The result is we’re probably going to have seven homes structurally damaged or lost today on top of what we already had.”
Connors said time has run out for the Plum Island homeowners and measures need to be taken immediately to protect the homes that remain. State Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, has been a vocal proponent of helping beachfront homeowners protect their property, and he called on other state and federal officials to take action.
“Its clear that up and down the coast, homes, property and infrastructure have been in jeopardy, it’s time that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts takes a serious look at all the tools that are available,” Tarr said. “We don’t want to have another home like that, and we want to be proactive and not reactive to the extent that we can.”
Tarr added that all affected homeowners should do whatever they need to do to protect their home in the short term, and he would work with the Department of Environmental Protection to make sure the laws are either complied with or changed.
Prior to the Blizzard, Annapolis Way homeowners have paid to install “coir bags” along the waterside of their properties. These 40-foot-long sandbags form a protective wall against the surf. The wall of sandbags was about a quarter mile long, but the bags took a beating in yesterday’s storm, and in some areas they were left in tatters.
The 200-yard stretch of homes along Annapolis Way have borne the brunt of erosion problems over the past several months. Two years ago, a home about 50 yards north of 41 Annapolis Way was demolished when the dune underneath it was compromised and its concrete foundation began to fall apart. Another home was built on the same lot, though not as close to the dune edge.
However in recent weeks, the erosion problem has started to migrate southward, along Fordham Way to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. In all, there are about two dozen seaside homes that have seen their waterside dunes severely eroded by recent storms.
Annapolis Way is located about 100 yards south of the Beach Center. Five years ago, it was the Beach Center and the dunes stretching 300 yards north of it that were taking a severe pounding. The federal and state governments spent $5.1 million to pump in sand to that stretch of beach, as well as a section of Salisbury Beach. The project stabilized the erosion problem at the Beach Center, however the problem simply shifted to the south.
Some believe that the presence of a sandbar offshore plays the crucial role in determining where erosion occurs. A narrow sandbar, located about 100 to 200 yards offshore, stretches along the northern end of the island. It ends just north of Annapolis Way. Areas that are behind the sandbar have seen their beach grow, while areas that are not protected by the sandbar have been suffering some of the worst erosion.