NEWBURYPORT — Plum Island is a subject frequently in the news, yet locals don’t seem to get bored by reading about it.
Local author William Sargent recently published his fourth book on the subject, “Plum Island 2017, The Resurrection.”
If you live on the island, “resurrection” might be an odd choice of the term at this moment in time.
Plum Island comes with contradictions.
In spring, schoolchildren from Newburyport and other school districts planted grass near Reservation Terrace to strengthen the dunes to limit erosion. But on the other end of the island, in Newbury, backhoes and tractors remove dunes so that million-dollar houses can be built.
Still, Sargent, who writes a column published in The Daily News, has proven himself to be a dedicated naturalist and he has expressed some optimism in this 156-page self-published book.
The veteran journalist starts by saying photos from a drone taken in August 2016 helped sort out some “truths” about the island and the flow of the Atlantic.
The photos showed that “the island was eroding in the middle and growing at both ends. So where would you want to build a house? On the ends. And where had the houses mostly been built? In the middle.”
Sargent expressed concern in earlier books that officials and scientists were not seeing what was actually happening (in his view).
He writes, “You would think people would have realized what nature was trying to tell us. What we really wanted was a leaky jetty on North Point. But in 2014 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers … repaired the jetty and two years later over 300 feet of well-vegetated dunes had gone and 250 homes on northern Reservation Terrace were in jeopardy.
“Residents had only realized it when water started flowing down well-worn paths to within 40 feet of their beachfront homes.”
But the situation improved, Sargent writes. The state Department of Conservation and Recreation entered the picture and approved a two-part improvement plan for creating ersatz dunes in front of houses bordering Reservation Terrace.
George Charos, who lives and works on Plum Island Point, was permitted to dredge sand under his piers and transport it across the island to shore up erosion-battered dunes.
This helped Charos, who docks his whale-watching and fishing vessels at Plum Island Point. The buildup of sand was threatening their mobility.
And the south jetty appears to be “settling,” which is enabling sand to migrate to the shore in front of Reservation Terrace. Sargent suggests it has settled two and a half feet in the past two years.
If it recedes another foot, the sand will move more freely and dunes will build up again, he said.
Sargent seems encouraged that things seem to be getting better.
The author, as in past books about the island, takes detours in his text.
Probably because he traveled there on other business, he has chapters on Cape Cod, the Ipswich River (he lives in Ipswich) and random coastal retreats in Florida.
But meandering is the price you pay with Sargent.
He has been among the most conscientious observers of Plum Island over the years, and this book will permit readers to review his latest environmental conclusions.
Dyke Hendrickson writes about Newburyport. He can be reached at 978-961-3149, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.