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April 6, 2013

Sand 'mining' eyed as Plum Island remedy

NEWBURY — Plum Island residents seeking a sustainable solution to havoc brought on by erosion have developed a proposal for a pilot program to “mine” sand so that replenished dunes can protect seaside homes.

Marc Sarkady, who heads the Plum Island Foundation, said that drawings and engineering studies were submitted Wednesday to top officials of the Department of Environmental Protection, including DEP Commissioner Ken Kimmell.

DEP made no decision at the session, held in state offices in Boston, but Sarkady said the decision-makers listened closely.

“This wasn’t just an abstract conversation,” said Sarkady, a Washington-based lawyer who has a home at 50 Northern Blvd. on the island. “DEP officials were open and responsive, and listened attentively and asked questions.”

Gloucester-based state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, whose district includes Plum Island and who has been active in seeking to develop a response to erosion issues there and elsewhere, including across Cape Ann, termed the meeting “a step forward.”

“Officials of the DEP heard from us that we’d like a decision as soon as possible.” said Tarr, who also serves as co-chair of the Merrimack River Beach Alliance. “We had a good representation, and (engineer) David Vine and (Northeastern) Professor Peter Rosen did a good job in providing scientific information to support the mining proposal.”

Mining is an exercise in which heavy equipment enters the beach at low tide and scoops up large amounts of sand. That sand is dumped near the high-tide mark in an effort to build up dunes that have been diminished by erosion.

Longtime residents of the island say this practice was carried out effectively in the late ‘70s. One homeowner said that in the past, seaside dwellers dug out depressions that were “big enough to bury a battleship.”

But state officials discouraged the process in the late ‘90s, islanders say. Indeed, as frequently as three months ago, homeowners were required to apply for a state permit just to “scrape” sand toward the dunes.

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