Posted by: coastlinesproject | October 23, 2013

Plum Island Mass.

The Unraveling
Plum Island
October 10, 2013

Strands of the Plum Island story started to unravel in early autumn. On September 30th Newburyport City Councilor Richard O’Sullivan proposed that the Council release details of a closed-door session it had held about the Plum Island water and sewer system.

The water and sewer system was the reason that so many houses had been remodeled into year round dwellings driving the prices of the houses on the primary dune up from $3,000 to close to a million dollars. But the system had lost pressure on several occasions stranding the homeowners without water or sewer services. Several of the water mains were under the streets that had eroded during the winter storms and nobody knew if the system had failed because of the storms, faulty construction, or both.

The city was trying to decide whether to sue Camp Dresser McKee the engineering firm that had done the work, and didn’t want to tip its hand. But Councilor O’Sullivan was running for mayor and was not above making a bit of political hay.

Mayor Donna Holaday and Allison Heartquest, the councilor who represented Plum Island opposed the measure, but it put all of the politicians in a tight spot. Another councilor who was also running for mayor suggested that the measure be sent to committee but he was shot down with little fanfare.

By the end of the night, 5 Councilors voted for the proposal and only three had voted against it, but two had voted present and one was absent because of a death in the family. This odd configuration of votes had killed the measure because it had failed to receive a clear majority.

But the vote was really just a sideshow. The main event had started several weeks before when Marc Sarkady sent an urgent e-mail to his Plum Island neighbors. The President of the Plum Island Foundation had decided to postpone the foundation’s annual $100 a plate fund raiser so that he could devote his full attention to the Foundation’s beach mining proposal.

Marc had recently spoken to his local engineer, David Vine who had come up with a reasonable path to move the project forward. But it would require that all the primary dune homeowners south of the Center Groin had to buy into mining the beach in order to build an artificial sand dune. Marc knew it would be an uphill fight.

Last winter’s beach scrapping project had left a bitter taste in many people’s mouths. Six homeowners had lost their homes and had not fully committed to rebuilding them. Why should they spend $6,000 to protect their empty lots?

Almost thirty people had spent close to $50,000 a piece to build illegal seawalls that would only increase the rate of erosion because they had not been built with backing material. The seawalls would just accelerate the energy of the waves flowing between the rocks causing them to scour sand out from behind the seawall faster. Why should they pay $6000 for sand to protect their rocks?

But, if these homeowners did not sign on to the project there would be gaping holes and the sand dune would not hold. However, the town, the state, and the Army Corps of Engineers had all agreed that they would permit the sand dune if the homeowners committed to the project within a week!

Four homeowners had already paid $4,000 to do the initial work and Marc and the foundation agreed to pay $3,000 to complete the design. But neither he nor the foundation could afford to cover additional costs, therefore they needed signatures and an initial $3,000 from every homeowner to proceed.

In the end Marc was only able to convince 7 people to commit to the project. At the October 4th meeting of the Merrimack River Beach Users Association he admitted defeat but gamely suggested he would try again in the Spring when waves would have more time to compact the sand, but that left nobody with protection for the winter ahead.

None of the homeowners had received federal grants to elevate or relocate. Milton Tzitzenikos had used his own money to move his house across Annapolis Way and another homeowner had demolished his former cottage and hired Tom Gorenflo to build a new permanent home less than a hundred feet from the edge of the dunes.

People were back in most of the thirty-nine houses that had been condemned in March, but none of the homeowners had done anything substantial to protect their homes. It was not a good way to head into the winter storm season.

On top of that, Marc had received of an unwanted surprise. When he opened his bill from the Federal Flood Insurance Program’s agency he discovered that his premium had increased from $3,500 a year to $25,000 a year, an increase of almost 900%. It was not a welcome Halloween present.


Bill Sargent is a member of Storm Surge, the Merrimack River Coastal Adaptation Workgroup. Starting in October the Storm Surge group will be presenting lectures every other week at the Parker River Wildlife Refuge on Monday nights at 7pm. Rob Thieler from the USGS in Woods Hole will be speaking on November 4th.

Read more in; Storm Surge; A Coastal Village Battles the Atlantic, Beach Wars; 10,000 Years on a Barrier Beach and The View From Strawberry Hill; Reflections on the Hottest Year on Record. See Strawberry Hill, UPNE, and Schiffer book tabs at the top of this page.


  1. Reblogged this on Living and Lovin and commented:
    I have done a blog on this place as well I LOVE PLUM ISLAND

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: