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March 21, 2013

Plum Island homeowners told their rock wall can't stand

PLUM ISLAND — The state Department of Environmental Protection has sent a message to residents on two Plum Island roadways who have been dumping tons of rocks along the shoreline to keep waves from claiming their homes: When winter’s over, you may have to pick them all up and cart them away.

Almost two weeks ago, a powerful storm, coupled with astronomically high tides, wreaked havoc on the barrier island, causing two homes on Annapolis Way to fall off their foundations and another four to be demolished after the waves damaged them past the point of no return. Several other homes were deemed uninhabitable.

Threatened homeowners took matters into their own hands and hired contractors to erect enormous stone piles from the center groin to the south end of Fordham Way. The wall of stone now stretches for about a half mile.

Several homeowners contacted by The Daily News of Newburyport, sister paper to the Times, said they felt they were legally allowed to dump the stones and build the barriers, but the letter from the state makes that far less certain.

The DEP’s message, which came in the form of a March 15 letter to homeowners from the desk of Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell, said depositing cement blocks or piles of small rocks (called riprap) on the beach would likely do more harm than good. Tons of riprap has already been dumped, along with larger rocks, that collectively form a stone barrier along the beach.

Kimmell said scientific evidence shows that hard structures such as stone barriers reflect wave energy, which causes greater erosion to homeowners on both sides of the hard structure.

“Hard structures also starve the beach fronting these homes of a necessary sediment source that supports a healthy coastal dune system, which provides the most effective storm damage protection to structures on coastal dunes. And ultimately, armoring of the dune will not prevent wave run-up, overtopping and flooding during coastal storms, and erosion and undermining will occur behind the riprap,” Kimmell wrote.

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