The beaches and coastline north of Boston have been a battering ram for several storms this winter. Actually, starting with the sideswipe by Superstorm Sandy in late October, followed by a fierce nor’easter just after Christmas, the Blizzard of ‘13 in early February and most recently another pounding from the early March nor’easter. Each storm unique in its own way, but nonetheless with devastating results along this scenic area of New England.
None have been more seriously damaged than Plum Island. From massive beach erosion, taking away up to one half of the beach area, to significant property damage resulting in demolishing several homes, this beach will likely never be the same. What the sea did not take into the ocean many of the residents of this barrier island had to watch as their homes were torn down after the nor’easter that pummeled the area last Friday. Some of the beach front homes could not stand up to Mother Nature any longer after several days of pounding waves, storm surges, above normal tides and high winds. There were at least 4 high tide cycles that battered the shore, with each successive tide worse than its predecessor. It just kept getting worse with each storm this winter and then finally this last storm put many of the homes over the edge, quite literally.
Plum Island is a barrier island just off the northeast coast of Massachusetts. It is about 11 miles long and is located in four communities, those being Newburyport, Newbury, Rowley and Ipswich. The island is named after the wild plum shrubs that grow on the dunes and is a favorite visiting area for thousands each summer.
But, the landscape has changed considerably over the years, with the past several months having seen the worst beach erosion and property damage since the Blizzard of 1978. As Bruce Carlisle, director of the state’s Coastal Zone Management put it, “each successive storm has had cumulative impacts. This March nor’easter has definitely left its mark, when people go out to the beach its going to look different.” With that said the most recent storm also damaged the boardwalk which people use to walk down to the beach and along The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most visited wildlife refuges on the east coast. The boardwalk is now closed indefinitely and according to Matt Poole, visitors service manager, because of the sequester, he doesn’t know where the money will come from to repair it.
Orrin H. Pilkey, Duke University professor emeritus of earth and ocean sciences has stated “If nothing is done, the houses will fall into the sea one by one. It’s a futile effort. You need to retreat.” Unfortunately, these strong storms are not going away. If anything, they have become more frequent and this has accelerated the damage along Plum Island and for most of the eastern Massachusetts coastline.
And that’s not all. According to Newbury building inspector Sam Joslin, last Friday’s storm has left up to 40 additional homes in harms way since the protective dunes have been destroyed, leaving an entire stretch of beach that is “entirely unprotected.” He goes on to state that even smaller storms may now become major issues for the island. It is not a matter of if another damaging storm happens, it is a matter of when and how much damage will occur. Another coastal storm is predicted early next week but impacts along the coast remain speculative at this point.