SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

April 7, 2008

Sand Wars Who owns the sand? Ongoing battle may delay solutions for Plum Island

(Continued)

But roughly coinciding with the nation's war on terrorists, the Army Corps of Engineers' annual budget has run into trouble. It's been pretty much level funded, O'Donnell said, preventing the tri-annual dredging of the Merrimack River mouth.

The lack of funding required the corps to prioritize its projects, O'Donnell said, which led the corps to take on projects primarily at the country's largest commerical ports. In New England, O'Donnell said, that's been in Boston and Portland, Maine harbors.

With dredging in the Merrimack River long overdue, the sand accumulations can lead to navigational problems. The hope is the $1.4 million Merrimack River dredging project will find funding in the next federal budget cycle late this year, and prevent further problems for Newburyport's small commercial and larger recreational uses of the river, O'Donnell said.

But federal budgets are dicey entities and Congress isn't always prompt about enacting them. Last year, the corps' hoped for $1.4 million for the Merrimack River dredge didn't make the budget. In addition, the corps didn't get its appropriation until January. Even if the corps gets all the money it needs in the coming budget for the Merrimack River project, it's possible the money won't be available until after the winter of 2009.

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Who gets the sand?

When the sand does get dredged, some local officials and residents now hope much of it will be pumped directly onto the beach, and excess will be stockpiled for later use.

But the fate of the sand is turning into a nasty battle between neighboring seaside communites, even though local officials in Salisbury, Newbury and Newburyport agreed late last year to work together on the erosion issue and not fight over sand.

The original battle over who has the right to the sand erupted last summer, encouraged by Plum Island beachfront resident Robert Connors and members of his Plum Island Beach Association. During a June 2007 interview, Connors said the jetties — built by the Army Corps in 1881 — interfere with the natural north-to-south hydraulics of sand movement along the coast. As a result, he argued sand dredged from the Merrimack River should never go to Salisbury — which is north of the river — but always be used to augement Plum Island, south of the river.

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