By Dyke Hendrickson
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Officials concerned about erosion on Plum Island are investigating a dune protection program known as a “biomimicry sand collection” system that can be assembled cheaply by volunteers.
At a meeting of Newburyport’s Conservation Commission this week, conservation coordinator Julia Godtfredsen said that the pilot program has worked well on parts of Cape Cod.
The term biomimicry refers to random patterns of thin cedar shims that mimic native beach vegetation by collecting and stabilizing wind-blown sand. The shims are inserted several inches into the sand, spaced from 10 to 14 inches apart, in a random matrix from 4 to 6 feet wide, along the upper beach.
During wind events, the system performs by collecting sand, according to developers of the technology.
When the sand levels rise, the slats are pulled up higher, to continue performing.
Members of the Beach Management Committee are considering the project for the beach in front of 61st Street, in part because there is an overwash during storm events. That means surf surges into areas between dwellings.
“This could be worth trying,” said James O’Brien, a member of the commission who lives on Plum Island. “It has been successful in other areas, and costs are low.”
During the Conservation Commission meeting, Godtfredsen said, “Volunteers, possibly from high schools, can install such a system. We are looking into the possibility of using it here.”
North Shore residents in many coastal communities are seeking new strategies to counter erosion following a winter where four storms created an unusual amount of erosion, including in Gloucester and Rockport, where Good Harbor Beach and stretches of Long Beach in both communities were hard hit by storms in both February and March.
The Plum Island coastline received national attention after six houses were destroyed as a result of surging seas. Another 20 are still considered “vulnerable,” according to Newbury officials.
The seashore in Newburyport sustained little damage. Indeed, only one dwelling on 55th Street was reported to have sustained (minor) destruction.
But the city of Newburyport has a standing beach management committee, and members appear to be examining numerous options in an attempt to provide greater protection to homes along the ocean.
Joe Teixeira, chairman of the Conservation Commission, yesterday said, “I think it’s a great idea. It’s basically snow fencing slats spread out to act like wide adjustable dune grass. It’s simple, very effective and really inexpensive.”
The pilot program was developed by Safe Harbor, a small Wellfleet company that provides environmental permitting and management services for construction projects and habitat restoration projects.
Officials say that shims, or thin stakes, can be purchased for $2 a pack for 42.
One pack can cover an area of 10 feet by 10 feet, authorities say.
Officials of Safe Harbor say they relinquished proprietary interest in the system in January, and thus its system is now in the public domain.
Newburyport City Councilor Allison Heartquist, who represents Plum Island, said, “There’s no time like the present to begin some long-term planning for the areas where we still have a chance to reinforce and rebuild our dunes.
“The techniques being pioneered by Safe Harbor have proven remarkably successful on Cape Cod, even in overwash areas.”