Massachusetts says residents’ coastal barriers are illegal


Residents in one Northeast town pummeled by winter storms and flooding are taking matters into their own hands. The problem — their solution is not only expensive, it’s also illegal.

In the aftermath of a recent series of devastating storms, some property owners on Plum Island in Newbury, Mass., are shelling out tens of thousands of their own dollars to build giant barriers on the beach to protect their homes. State officials say their efforts, though understandable, are illegal, according to WBUR, a Boston public radio station.

Nevertheless, up and down the beach, bulldozers and excavators are digging deep trenches, then filing them with huge rocks or concrete cubes before covering everything over with sand. The process is called beach armoring, and the giant rocks that form an artificial dune are called riprap. Armoring is expensive. In the aftermath of the storm, 10 shoreline Plum Island homeowners agreed to spend $40,000 each to protect their properties.

The state has given property owners until the end of the storm season to take down their barriers; otherwise there will be a showdown over the shoreline fortifications.

Greg Berman, a coastal process scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told the station that using riprap can make things worse because rocks reflect energy from waves.

“So when it bounces off, it actually expends a lot more energy in a shorter space,” Berman said. “There’s a lot of turbulence in the water, which can excavate out sand in front of that riprap, and then it has the energy to transport it further offshore. So the overall lowering of the beach in front of riprap is, depending on the environment, fairly typical.”

Earlier this week, Ken Kimmell, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, sent Plum Island property owners a letter acknowledging their difficulties, but warning them that, ultimately, armoring their beachfronts will not prevent flooding during storms or erosion. Kimmell warned Plum Island homeowners that they’ll soon have to pay to remove the dune armor.

But homeowner Teresa Richey isn’t fazed. “I’d like to make a statement and be the first one in line to go to jail,” Richey told the station. “I mean, I don’t think that we’ve done anything to go to jail.”

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