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March 12, 2013

Plum Island 'a wasteland'

PLUM ISLAND — It’s been nearly a half century since Plum Island’s vulnerable beachfront has seen such widespread destruction.

The storm-charged waves that struck the coast last Thursday and lingered through the weekend left three homes demolished. According to Newbury town officials, three more sustained “substantial” structural damage, and in all, 14 are uninhabitable, at least for the short term.

The focal point of the storm’s damage is along a two-thirds-mile stretch of dunes that runs south from the Beach Center, along Annapolis Way and Fordham Way. In total, one-third of the beachfront homes along that stretch have either been destroyed, damaged or lost their occupancy permit.

As the storm surge has gradually lifted, officials and residents Monday began seeing a beach that is dramatically changed.

“It’s a real wasteland,” said Newbury Selectman Geoff Walker, referring to the Annapolis Way/Fordham Way beach. “For our town, it’s devastating.”

What just a few years ago was a comfortably wide beach is now a narrow strip, accessible only around low tide. At high tide, the ocean laps up against steep, crumbling sand dunes, on top of which sit about three dozen homes. Some are precariously near the edge, others are already jutting over it.

Annapolis Way has taken the worst pounding. Of the nine homes on the ocean side of the road, three were destroyed by the storm.

“We don’t have any beach anymore from Bennett Hill to blue,” Walker said, referring to landmarks at either end of the Annapolis Way/Fordham Way stretch.

“This is historical,” said longtime Plum Islander Ron Barrett. “We haven’t seen something like this since the early 1970s.”

Sunday, state Sen. Bruce Tarr, state Rep. Lenny Mirra and Selectman Joe Story sent a letter top Gov. Deval Patrick, asking for “assistance and expertise of state government to help protect those homes that are still in immediate jeopardy and will likely remain in such jeopardy for the next several days.”

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