July 31, 2008

$2.5M in PI Funding Clears First Hurdle

By Victor Tine, The Daily News of Newburyport, Mass.

Jul. 31--PLUM ISLAND -- The state Senate has approved a $2.5 million amendment to a bond bill that would pay for beach restoration on Plum Island.

The measure must still pass the House and obtain Gov. Deval Patrick's signature, but co-sponsor Sen. Bruce Tarr said he is "optimistic about the chances for both."

The Gloucester Republican, whose district includes Newbury, has been conducting a series of meetings with local, state and federal officials to try to find both immediate and long-term solutions to beach erosion problems from the New Hampshire border to Cape Ann.

The other co-sponsor is Sen. Steven Baddour, the Methuen Democrat whose district includes both Newburyport and Salisbury.

The Senate version of the Environmental Bond Bill also establishes a Salisbury Beach Preservation Trust Fund, which would generate revenue by having the state Department of Conservation and Recreation charge a $2 surcharge on all admissions to Salisbury Beach State Reservation.

"Funding has arisen as a major challenge in our efforts to confront serious issues at these beaches," Baddour said in a statement released yesterday. "Now we are taking action to generate the funding we need to get the job done."

Tarr could not be reached for comment yesterday, but at the most recent meeting on June 17, an Army Corps of Engineers coastal expert recommended the installation of one or more "geotubes" along the beach for about 600 feet from Plum Island Center northward, an area that has seen extensive erosion in recent years.

A geotube is a 200-foot-long fabric cylinder that is filled with and covered with sand. It provides a soft barrier to wave-driven erosion.

At the time, Tarr said he would see about state funding for geotubes. They also require environmental permits, but the Army Corps representative said they can be installed quickly and are both stable and easily repaired if torn.

Geotubes could stabilize the beach while the Army Corps proceeds with a study to determine the cost effectiveness of taking sand that would be dredged from the Merrimack River channel and depositing it directly onto the shore. Dredging is expected to occur next summer.

If the $2.5 million is appropriated, it is not immediately clear who would manage the money.

Plum Island Center is considered the critical point because the erosion is worst there. A section of the deck of the former Jeanne's restaurant building has been removed because the dune under it was compromised.

In addition, the Center is at the confluence of Plum Island Boulevard, the only road to the island, and Northern and Southern boulevards, the principal routes in both directions. A breach at the Center could potentially cut off access to the mainland and create a public safety hazard.


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