Plum Island home condemned, others flooded

·5 min read

Jan. 18—NEWBURYPORT — At least one home along Plum Island's Reservation Terrace has been condemned and dozens of others have been affected by flooding following the storm Monday.

High tide rolled in at about 8 feet at 10:57 a.m., according to the Tides Near Me app.

Stan Sacks, who has lived on 73rd Street along Reservation Terrace for about three years, said he received calls Monday from the fire chief, who had to break into his home to shut off all the utilities, and the building inspector, who condemned the house in which he planned to retire.

"I've known this was coming — it's not a shock," Sacks said, "but now that it's here, it is a shock."

Sacks is one of many Plum Island homeowners who have been pushing federal, state and city officials for years to fix man-made problems related to the jetty and its spur.

In November, following tireless efforts by a group of Plum Island residents to secure a temporary solution, the city installed rocks along the vulnerable areas of 75th and 73rd streets.

Wood piling and coir bags, which are made out of coconut husks and other natural materials and filled with sand, were also placed at the north and south ends of Reservation Terrace.

Coir bags were not planned for the area in front of Sacks' home, so he paid $15,000 for the work to continue.

Sacks said the work was "way too late" though, since the foundation of his home had already been undermined in the past.

On Monday, the tide came in, destroying the home's foundation and bringing walls down with it.

He said the rocks should have been installed two years ago, as residents requested. He also believes the city should have installed another type of steel wall "or made other mitigation efforts before it got to the point of no return."

Living next door to Sacks on Reservation Terrace are Lela and City Councilor at large Mark Wright, who have been leading the effort to get city and state officials to take real action to help Plum Island.

Lela Wright said it was too early to say what the total damage to their home was following the storm Monday, but she and her husband were feeling lucky to still have power and water.

"This rock wall absolutely did what it was supposed to do," she said. "It broke up the wave action."

Though the rocks were able to dissipate the strength of the waves, as intended, she never expected them to stop the water completely. The water reached the height of her home's downstairs windows and flooded the backyard.

Speaking about the strength and magnitude of the waves, she said, "It was really intense. It was really powerful."

Lela Wright has heard from neighbors across Plum Island who have been impacted, saying the flooding appears to have affected homes from at least North Reservation Terrace in the area of 77th St. all the way down to 69th St.

That includes homes not just along the beach, but those much farther inland.

"It's hard to see your property destroyed over and over and over again," she said.

Lela Wright and others said the Merrimack River dredging project, which was supposed to begin last fall and replenish much-needed sand on the beaches, must move forward.

The U.S Army Corps of Engineers only received one bid for the project and it came in at nearly twice what was expected, which is why the project is on hold.

Mayor Sean Reardon expects the project to go out to bid again in March.

"The waves have been getting bigger and bigger," Wright said, noting that it's been 12 years since the Merrimack was last dredged. "We don't live on the ocean; we live on the river."

"The force of the storm earlier today was pretty intense," the mayor said. "We saw water levels rise to a point where it hasn't in a long time on Plum Island."

He noted that residents were "hanging in," but homes on 75th Street were especially affected.

Lee McLaughlin and her wife, Maureen Adams, had to evacuate their home on 75th Street after the furnace was damaged and the electricity was shut off. They have about two feet of water in their basement, which they said the Fire Department could not help them pump out due to all of the debris.

Ellen Moniz, McLaughlin's sister who also lives in a home on 75th Street, had to evacuate her home, too, even though it is even farther back from the beach. In her basement, flooding caused her freezer to tip over and her washing machine to fill with water.

McLaughlin and Moniz have lived on 75th Street for 70 and 74 years, respectively.

"When we were kids, we used to walk over to the ocean because it was closer than what in front of our house was," Moniz added, explaining how the dunes have disappeared due to significant erosion, resulting in the Merrimack being much closer to their homes.

Reardon noted that problems are going to continue to plague Plum Island until efforts such as the dredging project and work on the jetty spur move forward.

The mayor is preparing a briefing following the storm for state Rep. Jim Kelcourse, R-Amesbury, and state Sens. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, and Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester.

He is hopeful that state officials will work with him to see if there are more emergency measures that can take place on Plum Island.

"They need to fix the jetties," Moniz said, noting that residents have been fighting for this for seven or eight years.

Staff reporter Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at halterisio@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.

Staff reporter Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at halterisio@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.