SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

March 10, 2008

Sand dollars: Costs of remedying Plum Island beach erosion in millions

PLUM ISLAND — Vincent Russo has owned a house on Northern Boulevard for 35 years. Two or three times a week, he walks a 2- to 3-mile stretch of the beach — from the south jetty to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.

"It's part of my weight management program," said the 68-year-old surgeon.

Around 1999, he noticed some rocks on the beach that had previously been buried. About six years ago, he noticed another rock formation emerging from the sand, a few hundred yards north of the first one.

What he was seeing was a system of groins, massive granite structures built to trap sand on the beach. That they were exposed was not a good omen.

"These were all signs that there was massive erosion," Russo said.

Russo isn't the only one sounding an alarm. A growing number of people are worried that the island faces a new danger, caused by the ever-present grind of wind, tide and water, and the federal government's inability or unwillingness to take the kind of action it has in the past to protect the beach.

Over the past few months, the call to fix the problem has grown in intensity, pushed on by each storm that chews another chunk of dune. The sea marches steadily toward Plum Island Center, where all roads on and off the island merge. Since 1985, at least 150 feet of protective dune has disappeared at the Island Center, much of it over the past five years. Less than 70 feet remains.

Politics has also become embedded in the beach's woes. There are disagreements over what should be done, how it should be done, and who should pay.

Science is also deeply embedded. The harshest mechanisms of nature are in full play along the fragile sand coast. The evidence of erosion is clear, but not everyone agrees on the causes.

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