The Riddle In the Sand


As I See It

Bill Sargent, The Daily News of Newburyport, Edition January 11, 2019

On Nov. 4 I, drove to Plum Island’s North Point to investigate more clues in the case of the riddle in the sand.

A late October storm unearthed more of the 53 cement blocks that surfaced in the sand at low tide. At first, I thought they might have been put there to protect a road running through the dunes between the old Coast Guard station and its boathouse on the Merrimack River.

But there was also a large wooden post set in concrete that looked like it could have been a streetlight. Why would anyone bother with a streetlight in the dunes?

The storm had also unearthed a large piece of chain mail that could have been from fencing or even the remains of U-boat nets that were supposedly spread across the Merrimack to snag German submarines during both World War I and World War II.

On closer inspection, the chain-link material looked more like it came from the mouth of a bottom trawl, but it was doubtful there had ever been enough water to trawl for even flounder this close to shore. Plus, we had also discovered what looked like the end of a sealed-off fuel line.

All the artifacts pointed in the direction that this could have been a dock for fishing boats and Coast Guard vessels. It would have made sense for the Coast Guard to have two places to launch boats both into the river and offshore to pursue rum runners during that ridiculous experiment called Prohibition.

Prohibition might also explain why it was so difficult to find documentation of the facility. So we would probably have to just wait for another storm to reveal more clues to unravel the riddle in Plum Island’s sands.

Meanwhile, the City of Newburyport decided to spend $22,500 to install concrete blocks to protect the houses along Northern Reservation Terrace. Last year, overtopping and storm surges flooded the vulnerable neighborhood.

But the concrete blocks were the second line of defense. The neighborhood’s first line was the 4-foot-high sand berm the state had put in place last spring. It had done its job as a sacrificial dune, absorbing the energy of past storms.

Because the berm was designed to be a sacrificial dune, it required yearly maintenance. And residents were pushing to have the state build up the berm with more sand dredged from beneath George Charos’ charter boat docks that had been filling in ever since the Army Corps of Engineers completed repairing the Merrimack River’s south jetty in 2014.

Copyright © 2019 The Daily News of Newburyport, Edition 1/11/2019

Bill will be leading a beach walk January 21. Meet at the Plum Island Point parking lot at 10 a.m. Cost is $12.

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