Between a Rock and a Sandy Place


As I See It

Bill Sargent, The Daily News of Newburyport, Edition April 19, 2019

It’s deja vu all over again on Plum Island. After last year’s storms, some well-intentioned but ill-advised soul added untold tons of huge boulders to what’s known as the center groin, apparently in the belief that such action would protect their homes to the south from beach erosion.

Instead, the several-feet-higher groin has cut off the supply of sand to the houses north of center groin. And this was not done on private property but on state property because the state built center groin in the 1960s.

This is also what happened when the Army Corps of Engineers repaired the south jetty in 2014. It cut off the natural supply of shifting sand – jeopardizing up to 125 houses on Northern Reservation Terrace.

At least when the Corps of Engineers repaired the jetty, it could fall back on the excuse that when the Corps made its $24 million mistake, the prevailing opinion was that all longshore currents flowed south along that section of the beach.

Since then, numerous coastal geologists have visited the area to explain the island’s dynamics, and the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission hired the Woods Hole Group to do a definitive, gold standard study of the beach that shows that sand flows in two sand cells from the center of the island north and from the center of the island south.1

Hole In the South Jetty

The unfortunate part of this saga is that not only are people’s homes at risk but that legislative leaders have been making progress toward getting permission from regulators to harvest sand from sand sinks at the ends of the island to protect island homes.

Defacing state property for private ends will not endear us to state regulators, and it has pit neighbor against neighbor.

But lawsuits would only increase ill will and further exacerbate the situation, so what is to be done?

State and local officials have become very proficient at looking the other way when rocks are put on the beach. Perhaps, they could be just as assiduous about looking the other way when the multi-ton boulders are quietly and anonymously removed.

Copyright © 2019 The Daily News of Newburyport, Edition 4/19/2019


1From the Wood Hole Group Website:

Beaches Move. All the Time. You Can Count On It.

Beaches are one of our specialties. Our coastal engineers don’t just build a jetty or pump sand onto an eroded beach and walk away. We develop long-term, environmentally sustainable solutions.


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