, Salem, MA

Local News

March 17, 2008

'How many times are we going to save something?' Beach erosion, regrowth an endless pattern


Matthews, mayor at the time, said he pleaded for help and pulled every string he had. Hundreds of people, ranging from out-of-staters to Cub Scouts, joined in the effort to fill sandbags for an emergency barrier. Over 13,000 were filled. Most were swept out to sea by storms.

Nothing was working. Matthews held a meeting in December 1974 with the Army Corps of Engineers, after a severe storm tore about 4 feet off the top of the dunes at Plum Island Point.

"We've spent $12 to $14 million trying to hold back Mother Nature," an exasperated Matthews said at that meeting. "How many times are we going to try to save something, when we're going backwards all the time? I think we've come to the end of the road, as far as the short term solutions go."

As he spoke, up to 80 buildings were threatened with being swept into the sea.

At a heated meeting with 140 Plum Island residents in January 1975, Matthews raised the possibility of putting in enormous concrete blocks near Northern Boulevard to save the homes. The next day, the City Council approved the $8,000 to do it. Three days later, work began, and a week after that, it was done. Then 250 volunteers and the state Civil Defense filled 3,000 sandbags and placed them against the 1,300-foot-long wall.

The wall still stands today, partly buried by blowing sand. It has hundreds of yards of sand, and high dunes, between it and the sea

Matthews said he also convinced the government to bulldoze an emergency barrier to hold the sea back. Sand was pumped from The Basin to the beach. The efforts seemed to finally be working.

"I think we really accomplished something," Matthews said in an interview last week, "because we had people whom we knew and we could call upon to get things done."

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