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Plum Island Residents Weigh ‘Green’ Or ‘Gray’ Infrastructure In Struggle Against Erosion

Plum Island. Photo by Robin Lubbock for WBUR

Plum Island. Photo by Robin Lubbock for WBUR

On the northern tip of an island surrounded by river, marsh and sea, a few dozen volunteers sink shovels into a mound of sand, digging 10,000 holes to plant 20,000 stalks of beach grass.

They’re residents of Reservation Terrace — a dozen shoreline houses at the latest flashpoint in Plum Island’s long struggle against erosion — and they’re hoping the grass will lend their homes some protection.

“Our only line of defense, according to [state environment officials], is sand and dune grass,” says local activist Vern Ellis, who’s leading the planting.

Ellis knows it’s an effort worthy of Don Quixote — a bad storm could easily wash away the grass and the berm — but he hopes the beach grass buys his little La Mancha some time. The grass will nourish a berm put in place after a series of devastating winter storms caused repeated flooding on Reservation Terrace.

“The grass grows really, really deep roots, 3, 4 feet down, and it spreads and it basically holds the sand in place,” Ellis says. “And this stuff is really resilient. It could get buried up to about a foot of sand and will come back up through it.”

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