March 14, 2017
Turns out, it is much easier to get into Mar-a-Lago without credentials than onto Plum Island without a resident ID.
I discovered this in the wake of winter storm Stella that blasted the island with driving snow and hurricane force on March 14th. The winds left the telephone poles that lined Plum Island Turnpike at a 45-degree angle, and over a hundred people without electricity. That number climbed to over 400 people when National Grid sent repair trucks from as far away as Alabama to start turning off the power to replace the old poles.
Newburyport police officers set up roadblocks to stop people from entering or leaving the island then restricted the area to just people with resident ID’s. They also helped drive people with infants or disabled family members to the Salvation Army’s shelter where they could get warmth, medications and oxygen.
Some of the residents of Northern Reservation Terrace simply opted for the shelter rather than spending another cold dark night on the island. They remembered what it had been like two winters before when their basements filled with raw sewerage after the island’s finicky sewerage system had failed. Who wanted to repeat that experience again?
On March 17 I went out to see the results of the storm at low tide, when I could walk on the beach. Unlike a traditional Northeaster that stalls off the coast for several days Stella had blasted through in less than 12 hours so she had only been around for a single tidal cycle. So, like during a hurricane, the island had experienced more wind damage than erosion.
Newbury’s seawall had failed in several places and the foundation of one of the out houses had cracked but the main houses were all intact but slightly closer to the edge than you would want to be on a cold dark night with your house shaking in hurricane force winds.
But the Merrimack River’s South Jetty was a different story. It seemed like Stella had thrown all her forces at this single redoubt. Fourteen-foot waves had battered the jetty from both sides, washing sand through the structure from the oceanside and exploding up through the jetty from the riverside.
The waves had battered down the ten-foot high ridge of sand that had guarded the jetty from ocean waves. This had allowed them to wash unimpeded through a stretch of the jetty that was as long as a football field. This had allowed about eight thousand cubic yards of sand to flow through the jetty. Now it lay in a pristine white sandbar of finely sifted sand over an acre in size and four feet deep. This was about two thousand more cubic yards of sand than had been washed through the jetty during any storm the year before.
When I returned home and compared my photos of the jetty taken last year with those taken this year, I thought I could see why. It looked like the relentless battering from winter storm Stella had caused the jetty to settle a few more inches. I couldn’t wait for Paul Crofts Essex Tech students to measure whether this was true.
The storm had also put the communities of Newbury and Newburyport’s approaches to erosion control in stark contrast with each other. Residents of Newburyport were already working with the city, state and federal governments to rebuild the $150,000 sacrificial dunes that had saved them from winter storm Stella.
But the residents of Newbury had taken the law into their own hands, threatening to sue the town, state and federal government while rebuilding their multi-million dollar illegal seawall that had failed every year since 2013. And the town and state had acquiesced to the situation turning a blind eye to the residents’ transgressions.
But the residents had also expected the town, state and federal officials to spend over $25 Million to build anti-erosion devices and now they wanted them to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to dredge sand from the Piscataqua River in Maine and pump it in front of their houses. But people were starting to ask, why should the public pay for such projects that are so short-lived and only protect private property?