April 15, 2016
On April 15th Mark Habel told the Merrimack Beach User’s Association that the Corps of Engineers expanded study would be done by September. Then the study would be reviewed by a domestic scientific panel to determine if the jetty was causing erosion on Northern Reservation Terrace.
It was almost certain that the scientists from the Corp’s modeling lab in Mississippi would return with the finding that the jetty was causing the erosion because the longshore currents flow north on this end of the island. It seemed to be crucial that Newburyport’s panel also have a correct understanding of the currents at the north end of the island.
Review by the panel was a requirement of establishing Federal responsibility as much as doing a cost benefit analysis had been for repairing the jetty itself. But the panel was mostly made up of local officials and reflected local understanding of research done by scientists who had primarily studied the southern end of the island, They had used Seventies technology to make the assertion that all the currents flowed south along the island, not just the ones for which they had real data.
The only two scientists who had got it right were Dennis Hubbard and Irene Watts who had actually studied the currents at the north end of the island. But Dennis had moved on to become head of the geology department at Oberlin College and Irene, who had been slated to do the Corps’ official sediment transport analysis, had gone to the Florida Institute of Technology to finish her PhD.
But a local environmental group called Storm Surge had been able to locate both scientists and invite them to give talks. Hubbard’s talk had been given and recorded in October and Irene is due to speak to a full house in June.
It seems crucial that the panel members review these scientists’ papers, and listen to their talks if not add one or both of them to the panel itself. It is also important that the panel contact the other scientists to see where they now stood on the issue. There is evidence that they now realize they made a mistake and plan to take another look at Plum Island’s currents this summer.
It will be fascinating to see their results. All you really have to do is visit the “Sand Machine” in the South Jetty to see that the currents flow predominately north.
William Sargent’s latest book, Plum Island; 4,000 Years on a Barrier Beach is available in local bookstores and through Amazon.com and at www.strawberryhillpress.com.
Irene Watts will be giving a Storm Surge lecture at Newburyport City Hall in June.