Is Plum Island one superstorm away from disappearing?

A Plum Island home pitches into the sea / via Getty
A Plum Island home pitches into the sea. Several houses on the island were damaged last winter. Credit: Getty

Last March, horrified homeowners on Plum Island fought desperately to try to save their properties from literally being swallowed up by the roiling ocean. After being ravaged by weather last winter, many feared that this year-round community — also a popular destination for summer vacationers — was one super storm away from disappearing into the Atlantic.

“The damage was very localized,” says Deborah Hamilton, a local real estate specialist at RE/MAX on the River in Newburyport. “Depending on where people live, some are getting a little gun-shy. It’s only one stretch of the beach physically but, emotionally, the concern is wider.”

Hamilton owns a house on the island, but says that she feels no immediate danger.

“My property is on a part where a natural sandbar is building. A lot of people are now betting that it will be one of the safest,” she says. “Those people who know the area and which parts are affected by the storms are not afraid. It used to be the least desirable part of the island.”

Though Plum Island’s real estate market is not yet endangered, there are telltale signs that people may be rethinking its sea views. “In April, there were no sales, whereas last year there were four,” Hamilton says. “This year there were two in March; last year there were five.”

“People are not leaving in droves,” confirms Hamilton. “But there’s the perception that the homes were in harm’s way then and that they could be again.”

Island Stats

Plum Island is a naturally formed 11-mile-long, half-mile-wide stretch of sand, which grew into a barrier island over several thousand years. Beach erosion is a natural, ongoing event that many think is now exacerbated and hastened by global warming and rising sea levels.

Shoring up Plum Island, whose beaches are in a constant state of erosion and accumulation depending on location, might not help, long-term: “We watch the state bring in sand, but is it like using a teaspoon to shovel against the ocean?” says Hamilton. “It’s hard to say if anything we do will have any great effect. People are dealing with the short-term impact and just hoping it isn’t forever. It all depends on Mother Nature.”


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