, Salem, MA

Local News

April 7, 2008

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


The north to south movement of sand along this portion of the coast is something accepted by coastal environmental officials at both the state and local levels. But authorities interviewed for this series refuse to adhere to the principle that migrating sand belongs to any specific community.

As a natural course of events, sand on barrier beaches moves, according to both Salisbury Conservation Commission Chairman Tom Hughes and Coastal Zone Management Geologies Rebecca Haney. It usually moves from north to south, they said, but when it leaves, it has no allegence to where it came from or where it might be headed.

Connors has said he believes the north jetty — on the Salisbury side of the Merrimack River's mouth — traps sand naturally moving south, preventing it from making its way to Plum Island to replenish naturally depleting sand from its beaches. The south jetty also hurts Plum Island, he said, because it catches sand washing down the Merrimack River itself before it gets to its hypothetically intended destination — Plum Island — where Plum Island advocates believe it historically accumulated.

Last summer, Newbury's Conservation Commission filed as an intervener to remove Salisbury from being eligible to receive the sand. After learning of the appeal, Salisbury Selectman Jerry Klima, with Salisbury Town Manager Neil Harrington, worked to solve the problem before it turned into a distasteful and expensive lawsuit.

After meetings between officials involved, Harrington agreed Plum Island should get the sand when and if the corps is able to dredge the harbor this time round. But, the agreement also preserved Salisbury eligibility to acquire sand from the corps future periodic dredging.

The sand was to be dumped in the waters off Plum Island, close enough to the beach to encourage "renourishment."

Many in Salisbury wondered why, but for Harrington the issue is fundamental.

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