Harry Trout's home on Plum Island was condemned and demolished in March after a spring nor'easter storm undermined the oceanfront structure. Now he's applying to rebuild the house — and learning that he's not just in a tough weather exposure. He's also in a very difficult regulatory environment.
Trout is particularly concerned about two deed restrictions stipulated by officials as a condition for his permit to rebuild, reports NECN ("Some homeowners look to rebuild on Plum Island," by Lauren Collins). One stipulates, "Any new coastal engineering structure, including but not limited to bulkheads, revetments or seawalls, shall not be permitted." Another condition requires the owner to acknowledge that he assumes the risk of any future shoreline erosion, and that the state has no obligation to consent to any future efforts the owner may undertake to protect the new structure.
For their part, state officials say they have more on their minds than the survival of Trout's house, which he plans to build on the lowest-lying plot of ground on Plum Island. "If Plum Island were going to break in two, this was probably where it would happen," reports the Newburyport Current ("Islands in the Storm: Plum Island residents weigh their options," by William Sargent). "If so, waves would break the mains below Fordham Way, leaving the southern end of the island without water and the neighborhood flooded with raw sewage. It would not be as bad as if the island broke at the center groin, which would leave 750 homes without sewer or water lines, but it would cause considerable inconvenience."
Among Trout's immediate neighbors, some still have intact houses. But each year brings new risk, and homeowners are facing a tough choice. They could apply for grants to help elevate their homes on pilings; but if the erosion continues, they might soon own houses that stand on stilts in the breakers. Or, they could apply for a federally-backed buyout (an uncertain and time-consuming process).
If they choose the buyout route, the Current notes, homeowners have a motive to act quickly: "If they did nothing, the next time they applied they might only be eligible to be reimbursed for the value of their empty lots."