, Salem, MA

January 4, 2014

On Plum Island, waves pound rock barrier

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — PLUM ISLAND — Massive waves battered the shore of Plum Island during yesterday’s noon high tide, kicking up a thick ocean spray and washing at least one beachfront home’s deck out to sea.

The brunt of the tide’s fury appeared to be focused on the half-mile stretch of beachfront along Southern Boulevard, Annapolis Way and Fordham Way, an area that also suffered extensive damage in last winter’s storms. One home in particular, at 35 Southern Blvd., appeared to suffer the worst damage after a section of rock wall protecting the home failed, allowing the waves to scour out the sand from underneath it and smash its deck to pieces.

According to the Newbury assessor’s database, the home at 35 Southern Blvd. belongs to Helen Dolberg and is currently valued at $660,900. The two-bedroom, two-bathroom structure was first built in 1949 and had been under agreement last month before the last snowstorm scared off the prospective buyer, according to a family member.

John Rossi, Dolberg’s son-in-law, was checking on the home at high tide and said that Dolberg moved out of the house after the sale fell through and was not home when the latest snowstorm hit. He said the house did have rocks protecting it prior to the storm, and the house also held up last winter, when Plum Island was battered by four major storms in a span of a few months.

“You can see that the ocean is starting to make a little bit of a cut here for some reason, but it has fared no better or no worse really,” Rossi said. “Well, certainly better than some of the other folks [who lost their homes], but no worse than anyone else’s.”

Last winter, six homes were destroyed on Plum Island by winter storms. Residents constructed a massive wall of loose stone along the edge of the dune, then buried it under tons of sand. The stone wall, which stretched for a few hundred yards, was meant to provide protection against storm surges by forming a continuous barrier that diverts storm-driven waves and holds the dune together. But the barrier isn’t foolproof — strong waves over a series of high tides can tear it apart.

Generally speaking, Plum Island residents weathered this latest storm fairly well. Kathy Connors, who lives on Annapolis Way and whose family has been heavily involved in erosion-related issues on Plum Island, said the storm caused much less damage to the island’s beachfront homes than the last few storms have, although there are concerns about seawater coming up over the dunes and flooding the sewer system. Some ocean water seeped over the dunes and into low-lying areas as high tide hit around 1 p.m.

John DeMartino, who lives a couple of houses down on Southern Boulevard, said the waves produced by the storm were some of the biggest he’d ever seen on Plum Island. He added that the rock walls generally did a good job protecting the homes along the beach, and without them, there may have been a lot more damage.

“I think the walls are making a difference for a storm this size, but it’s hard to say how long it’s going to last,” DeMartino said. “I think we’re better off with the wall here; without it, we’d probably be in worse shape.”

Erin Bligh, who lives on Southern Boulevard, as well, said she was also surprised by how high the seas were but added that the wind died down considerably before the high tide hit, which probably saved the island from a much worse situation.

“I was surprised. Wind-wise, it’s definitely less aggressive than the past couple of storms have been, but I’m surprised by how high the surf is,” Bligh said. “I think we’re having a pretty high tide in general, plus with all the weather, I think if the wind hadn’t backed off this morning, it would’ve been horrible. We’ve got to thank our lucky stars for that.”

The Newburyport end of the island also suffered damage from the storm. Newburyport firefighters responded to a homeowner off 53rd Street who reported storm surge-related flooding.