June 20, 2008

‘Hostile’ Letter Keeps Harrington Away From Plum Island

By Victor Tine, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.

Jun. 20--PLUM ISLAND -- Although he was listed as a participant, Salisbury Town Manager Neil Harrington purposely stayed away from a meeting Tuesday on beach erosion issues organized by state Sen. Bruce Tarr and the Plum Island Foundation.

The reason for his absence, Harrington wrote in an e-mail to Plum Island Foundation Vice President Robert Connors last week, was that Connors and a "citizens' group" sent the town a letter last March threatening a lawsuit if the town did not agree to allow sand dredged from the Merrimack River channel to be deposited exclusively at Plum Island.

"We simply cannot grant legitimacy to a meeting organized by a group that ostensibly wants our support at the same time it is threatening to take legal action against us," Harrington wrote to Connors last Friday.

Harrington informed Connors in the e-mail that "the town of Salisbury will not be participating in the June 17 meeting." However, on a list of participants, he was listed anyway.

Connors responded to Harrington's e-mail message a few hours later.

"I will inform Sen. (Bruce) Tarr that you will be unable to attend the upcoming event he has organized with the Army Corps of Engineers," Connors wrote.

"Wouldn't the citizens of Salisbury be better served having their town manager attend to learn firsthand of the necessary steps, the possible solutions of erosion control and beach nourishment?" he added.

He did not remove Harrington's name from the list of participants that was released to the public.

"Mr. Connors has his own agenda," Harrington said when asked about Connors' e-mailed question. "He's interested in getting sand only for Plum Island, and we stand in opposition to that."

Salisbury selectmen Chairman Jerry Klima did attend the session, but he said it was primarily to provide information to Army Corps of Engineers coastal experts who were touring the beaches at Plum Island and Salisbury.

"It seemed appropriate to be cooperative with the Corps of Engineers," Klima said yesterday.

Salisbury and Plum Island had previously agreed to alternate the deposit of dredged sand per each dredging. Sand from the next dredging -- whenever it occurs -- would go to the island. Sand from the dredging after that would go to Salisbury Beach.

That the island will receive the next load of sand was itself a concession by Harrington because the last dredging deposited sand off Plum Island, albeit nearly 10 years ago. Harrington agreed to that concession "recognizing the need for immediate relief for Plum Island," he wrote.

The letter threatening legal action if that agreement were implemented was written by Boston attorney Robert Brennan. It was also sent to the state attorney general's office, the Department of Environmental Protection, the state environmental affairs secretary, Newburyport Mayor John Moak, the Newbury Board of Selectmen and the Army Corps of Engineers.

"(Salisbury) believes that the only reasonable answer to the question of how to deal with the never-ending problem of storm damage on our respective shorelines is to (a) work together toward a long-term regional solution and (b) engage our elected and appointed officials at the local, state and federal level to work on our collective behalf for the benefit of all of our citizens," Harrington wrote in his e-mail to Connors. "This can only be achieved if private citizens who wish to involve themselves in this process agree to work cooperatively with these officials. Sending hostile letters is not, in my opinion, a productive approach to finding a timely and doable solution to this serious problem."

The meeting was intended to give a panel of Army Corps of Engineers coastal experts an opportunity to assess the beach erosion problem on Plum Island and Salisbury Beach and answer questions from local and state officials.

Klima said his presence at the session should not be construed as an endorsement of the Plum Island Foundation. He said he thought the communities could probably persuade federal officials to give their financial support to beach nourishment projects -- but only if they work together.

Connors yesterday declined comment on Harrington's statements or his absence from the meeting.


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