Exploring the Lagoon at Sandy Point

As I See It

 Bill Sargent, The Daily News of Newburyport, Edition 11/18/2017

“On Nov. 7 I took some students from Governor’s Academy to Plum Island’s North Point. It was a cold, gray day. Four-foot waves scudded over the choppy waters of the Merrimack River as two Coast Guard cutters returned from a reconnaissance patrol. For months we had been enjoying the warm autumn weather, but the recent pre-Halloween storm had finally ushered in more seasonal temperatures.“

“We measured erosion near the boardwalk and saw where the storm had eroded 20 feet off the dunes toward the end of the point. Then we trudged out to the south jetty and saw where the storm had jostled the jetty’s boulders, causing them to settle another inch or so. One of the gullies that carry sand through the boulders had deepened from about four feet to six. All this damage had been caused by repairing the jetty, which had blocked off the natural flow of sand toward North Point.“

“After the students returned to the academy, I drove to Sandy Point on the southern end of Plum Island. It would allow me to see how the end of a barrier beach island can grow when there are no human structures to interfere with the natural flow of sand.“

“The first thing I noticed was how difficult it was to walk. Between six and 12 inches of new powdery white sand covered the dune grass. The Halloween storm had blown sand hundreds of feet into the dunes. It was as if 50 guys with snow blowers had sprayed tons of sand onto the area. It looked like destruction, but the grass would grow up through the sand, raising the dunes almost a foot higher the following spring.“

“The year before, the state had spent almost a month using trucks, Bobcats and expensive sand imported from a quarry in Maine to build two small sand dunes for $150,000. The night before Halloween, Nature had built up an area four times as large — for free.“

“There was a lesson here. If you leave a barrier beach alone it will repair itself naturally. It also pointed out that our permitting system is too punitive. It is just as time-consuming and expensive to apply for a permit to armor the coast, which should be discouraged, as to spray sand onto the dunes on a regular basis, which should be encouraged. It would be good to have some carrots for good behavior as well as sticks to discourage bad behavior built into the permitting process.“

“The next thing I noticed was that the last few days of extreme high tides had washed over the spit, and a new six-inch deep inlet was now flowing directly into the center of the lagoon. Just before the Halloween storm Marc LaCroix and I had flown his drone from Ipswich over Plum Island Sound to photograph the lagoon.“

“The photographs showed that the spit had finally pinched off the former entrance at the far end of the lagoon so that the water now flowing over the spit had to go somewhere, so it had scoured out this shallow inlet through the spit into the center of the lagoon.“

“The question was whether sand would seal up the inlet once the so-called king tides, the highest of the year, had passed or whether this new inlet would stay open and migrate over several months, or perhaps even years, to the location of the old inlet a hundred feet away. It all depended on storms and what would happen during the winter, which was fast approaching.“

William Sargent’s most recent book, Plum Island 2017: Resurrection is available in local bookstores and through Plum Island Outdoors and at Ingram.

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