, Gloucester, MA

March 11, 2013

Seawall at center of Plum Island saga

By Sonya Vartabedian
Staff Writer

---- — PLUM ISLAND — Stephen Bandoian spent the weekend trying to figure out how his once well-protected oceanfront home on Plum Island essentially turned to rubble in a matter of months.

From Florida, where he spends much of the year, Bandoian could only rely on reports from family, friends and the media as his home at 41 Annapolis Way gave way Friday to high seas and collapsed onto the ravaged shoreline below.

“This should have never happened — never, never never happened,” he said Friday afternoon.

A decade ago, the dune in front of Bandoian’s house was so high it obscured his view of the ocean, he said.

“If you stood on the deck, you would see the ocean on the horizon, but couldn’t see the beach,” he said. “It was above the 100-year water mark. It was high, high up on the dune.

“... Something changed there. There’s a reason that the dune stopped building out and started being chewed back in.”

Bandoian said his house made it through last year undamaged. But he began fearing the worst in December, after his repeated attempts to gain permission to repair the recently exposed seawall in front of his house remained stalled. For years, the seawall had been buried deep beneath the dunes, only to resurface with the worsening erosion.

With the seawall compromised, this season’s volatile storms dealt successive blows — damaging, then destroying his deck before the next hit undermined his house a bit.

Friday, the house simply gave way, and on Saturday, wrecking crews were tearing it down to prevent it from washing out to sea and its debris from damaging other homes.

A frustrated Bandoian said it’s unfortunate he was prevented from doing what he and his engineers felt was necessary to protect his house.

“I was told by engineers that if the seawall was repaired properly and the home was properly armored, then it would be fine,” he said. “That’s all I have to go on.”

Bandoian grew up spending summers on Plum Island. Since the 1950s, he’s watched the effects of erosion steadily move from one end of the barrier island to the other — starting on the northern Newburyport end around 53rd and 55th streets, then progressing to the center before moving south to the area around his home. Over the years, he’s seen sandbars, too, build up, move and then disappear.

Each time the jetties were repaired, he said the erosion problems were redirected further south, eventually reaching his property, which backs up to Southern Boulevard.

Built in the late 1970s, Bandoian’s house replaced one that was damaged in a 1976 storm. It was constructed further back on the lot to protect it from coastal damage. Bandoian bought the house in 1981 and extensively renovated it, he said. He also owns the adjacent house at 43 Annapolis Way, which occupies the same lot.

While electrical power had been cut to the house, Bandoian said that was because a utility pole that serviced his residence had been undermined and disputed it was due to safety concerns for his house.

Bandoian said it’s too soon to know what he’ll do next. But he fears for the properties around him, particularly those behind where his house and the dune had once provided a solid protective barrier.

“Others, close friends and neighbors of mine, never, ever thought their houses would ever be threatened,” he said. “It’s now conceivable that they are.”

He’s even begun wondering about his 43 Annapolis Way property, where his son’s fiance now lives. In more than 30 years, he’s never once had a concern there — until now.

“If someone doesn’t do something to change whatever’s happening, I suppose it’ll reach that and beyond,” he said.