By Angeljean Chiaramida
---- — SALISBURY — Sand could be shifting in this town’s favor soon, as the state agency that owns Salisbury Beach indicates its intent to mine the north jetty sandbar and transport its sand back to replenish the shore’s dune system that was devastated during the March 8 storm.
State Sen. Kathleen O’Connor-Ives, D-Newburyport, and Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, brought the good news to Salisbury Chamber of Commerce members at their legislative dinner last Thursday night. Both legislators had a late afternoon conference call with state agency officials, including Commissioner Ed Lambert, who heads the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which owns the beach.
By the end of the phone call, both legislators came away with the belief that tangible help is hopefully a matter a few weeks away.
“DCR has an action plan to nourish Salisbury Beach and harvest the sand from the sandbar at the north jetty,” Costello said. “The plan is to renourish the Beach Center, 22 hot spots and the beach access ways. DCR is sending out engineers to the jetty to survey the sandbar this weekend to see how much sand is there and how much of the excess sand they can move to Salisbury Beach.”
However, Costello said, a critical part of the plan isn’t finalized. That’s finding the $250,000 to $500,000 to do the work with only three months left in DCR’s fiscal year. However, Costello added, he firmly believes a lack of money won’t prevent the plan from being implemented in a timely fashion.
“Commissioner Lambert didn’t make a commitment that he had the money, but he made a commitment that he’d look for the money,” Costello said. “They wouldn’t be down there this weekend identifying the sand to be moved, if they weren’t planning to move the sand.”
Costello said it was O’Connor-Ives who offered a solution to the money problem during the conference call. She suggested DCR use money in the Salisbury Beach Preservation Trust Fund to pay for completing the action plan.
A dedicated fund to be used by DCR to maintain the beach, the Salisbury Beach Preservation Trust Fund was proposed in 2008 by former state Sen. Steve Baddour, and is underwritten by a $2 surcharge on camping and parking fees paid by the tourists who patronize Salisbury Beach State Reservation. When first introduced Baddour had estimated the surcharge could raise as much as $250,000 a year.
Costello said DCR’s response to O’Connor-Ives recommendation was that the money in the fund was already spoken for, intended to buy snow fencing and pay for the razing of the dilapidated former Sidewalk Cafe on Ocean Front South. DCR bought the property, with the blessing of Salisbury officials and beach residents, with the intent of tearing down the eyesore and building a dune in its place.
Costello said he and O’Connor-Ives suggested Lambert reconsider, and perhaps hold off on the Sidewalk Cafe project for a bit, using the trust fund’s cash for the more urgent need of restoring a storm ravaged beach and its unsafe dune system before this tourist season begins. The Trust Fund will amass more money in the coming months as visitor use the reservation, the legislators reminded Lambert.
Costello said if all goes as planned, sand harvesting could begin around April 17, and Jack Murray, Deputy Commissioner of for Operations at DCR will oversee the project himself.
If it happens, such a solution will be welcome news in town, for although Tuesday’s snowstorm wasn’t forecast to bring coastal flooding, it brought waves washing over into Salisbury Beach Center because there were no dunes left there to prevent it. The flooding required the town to defend the water and sewer lines under Broadway, Driftway and Ocean Front North and South, where the flooding took place.
Salisbury Public Works Director Donald Levesque said the reason such a small storm brought problems is because the substantial dunes that used to line that area were decimated during the March 8 storm tides.
Even when the dunes were there, during exceptionally high tides or strong coastal storms, ocean waves have historically invaded Salisbury Beach Center. Last Tuesday’s storm was forecast to offer either driving winds or storm surges, yet without its dunes, Beach Center property, the town’s underground water and sewer lines and its pavement remain vulnerable.
The result of the ocean’s action during that storm obliterated most of the protective dunes along that front of the Beach Center, but it also sucked out countless tons of sand from the beach itself and carved out the dunes farther north along the beach. Although the sea has returned some of the sand to the lower beach, much of it washed south, making a huge sandbar at the Merrimack River’s north jetty. Some have estimated there could be as much as 500,000 cubic yards of sand there.
Costello said DCR’s action plan also includes restoring the dune system at the northern end of the beach that endured dune damage after the Feb. 8 blizzard and subsequent storms, concluding with the big one of March 8. Many homes that abut the dunes were threatened by the erosion, he said.
Some homeowners moved to help themselves, obtaining 14 emergency certificates, and paying thousands of dollars of their own money to shore up the dunes on their property. Costello said he’s sure they’ll be pleased to see DCR hopes to support those efforts by restoring the abutting dunes on state property.