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Coastal Development And A Changing Climate

The winter storm that battered New England’s coastline this winter ripped two Plum Island homes off their foundation and left them partially collapsed into the ocean. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The winter storm that battered New England’s coastline this winter ripped two Plum Island homes off their foundation and left them partially collapsed into the ocean. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Global sea levels are rising. Storms are getting more powerful. Homes along the Massachusetts coastline are in trouble. Yet, the state has not only permitted– but encouraged — development in these areas for hundreds of years.

What should we do about coastal property today?


Bob Connors, home owner and general contractor on Plum Island.

Jack Clarke, director of public policy and government relations for the Massachusetts Audubon Society.


WBUR “Plum Island — named for the marble-sized, wild plums that grow in the fall along the beach – has always been a haven for migratory birds and wildlife, but about 60 years ago people began building modest seasonal houses on the north end, usually 100 yards or more from the ocean. Then came paved streets, sewers and homes built right along the coastline with million-dollar views and price tags to match.”

Other stories from this show:

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  • Call_Me_Missouri

    I think all the houses on Plum Island should be Bought Back via Eminent Domain then physically removed.  The entirety of the island should be given to the Wildlife Refuge and be allowed to go back to being wild except for a few basic roads to allow people to go out there and see the Owls in the winter.

    • Frank Wetenkamp

      So first you’re against homeowners using government insurance and now you want the government to buy back every home and business on the island and pay to demolish and restore it? You obviously are not truly interested in a serious discussion. Removing the homes on plum island would put the town of newbury into bancruptcy and would raise property taxes on the elderly forcing them to move not to mention that we are already unable as a country to fund schools and important safety net programs. People like you and Tim give liberals a bad name.

      • Frank Wetenkamp

        Also, why don’t you quit hiding behind your anonymity and use your real name?

        • Call_Me_Missouri

          Because not every thing is everyone’s business.

      • Call_Me_Missouri

        I never said I was against homeowners using government insurance…  I think people who houses are in eminent danger of being lost to the ocean should pay a rate that is in line with the financial risk they pose to the issuer of the insurance.  How is that wrong?

        And I think in places like Plum Island where it seems possible if not probable that there will be a time when the rest of the houses out there are going to fall into the ocean that sometimes the government should cut it’s losses…

        I never suggested that the town of Newbury would be responsible for the buy out or the rip out.  Seems much more reasonable that the Federal Government would buy and clear the land since the Wildlife Refuge out there is Federal Property as I recall.  Newbury would only loose the Property Taxes for the houses on the Island which I’m sure is some money but they won’t need to provide services to that area anymore either…  I’m not sure how the accounting would work out.

        Being pragmatic does not give anyone a bad name.  We cannot continue to throw good money after bad.  It’s irresponsible.

        And quite frankly, I would rather see the land go back to being available for the Owls, Ducks and Northern Harriers…  Have you ever been out there in the dead of winter?  It’s terrific.

  • ChevSm

    This conversation makes me thankful for the Cape Cod National Seashore

  • http://twitter.com/TimMCahill Tim Cahill

    Those people who chose to live along the immediate coastline should NOT expect any state tax money to be spent helping them fight back the ocean or rebuild anything they’ve lost so far.  When those same homeowners fight against people being able to walk along the shoreline or use the beach for recreational purposes, they give up all rights to collective help from the rest of us. 

    They want us (those who don’t live along the coast) to leave them alone when times are good, but as soon as their lifestyle is in danger, we’re all supposed to help them maintain it?  This issue should be between themselves and their insurance companies; leave the rest of us and our tax money alone you greedy 1%ers.

    • exiledinbyfield

      hate speech that’s shameful. Who decides which homes within the commonwealth are defended?  Should we stop fixing road washouts because people choose to live near a river or stream?  No mention that these property owners want some sort of state aid, just the ability to defend their homes with their own funds.

      • Call_Me_Missouri

        If they had the money to defend their homes they would have put them up on stilts years ago and none of this would have happened.

        They want their insurance to pay to rebuild their homes and their insurance is provided through state and federal government flood insurance programs.  So, in fact, they do want some sort of state aid.

        • Cheryl Comeau

          The max pay off for insurance is 250,000. And you
          have to pay to demolish the original house. They will only pay the claim if
          your house gets flooded, not if it gets demolished or is unsafe because of
          erosion. Most likely only 2 of the 6 homes will get to collect on the
          insurance. And 250,000 isn’t going build a new house that would meet all the
          DEP regulations. The likely hood any one is going to see money from the
          insurance is very small. 

      • Cheryl Comeau

        Thank You

    • Call_Me_Missouri

      The problem is that the government IS their insurance company because they live someplace where they cannot get Flood Insurance through private industry… because apparently private companies are no dummies!

      This problem is going to take care of itself soon enough… 

      The Federal Flood Insurance just put out a news story lately about how homes like those on Plum Island will be paying substantially more for insurance if they have not made the effort to put their house up on flood proof stilts.

      In other words…  we’ll insure you…  but it’s gonna cost ya, which is perfectly reasonable.

      Personally  though, if I owned a house on Plum Island I would pray for a buy out program and cut my losses ASAP.  I’d take the money and run early before the money ran out!

  • Frank Wetenkamp

    What Jack and others seem to ignore is the fact that coastal manipulation has been practiced for a century and people have their entire life’s savings at stake. It takes a very smug person with no personal loss at stake to oppose assistance to these homeowners. I guarantee you if Jack owned a million dollar property in jeapardy he would be on the other side of this issue.

    • Cheryl Comeau

      Thank You

  • Frank Wetenkamp

    No one on Plum Island blocks access to the beach.

  • Cheryl Comeau

    The homes on Plum Island have been there since the late 1700′s. This environmentalist would have you believe the island moves hundreds of feet every 10 or so years. Thats bull crap. I have family photos that show the Bennett Hill House over 120 years ago and the beach looks exactly the same as it did this past summer. This man is misleading you. The island moves in increments of inches over a 1000 year span. NOT feet over a 10 year span. We had one storm this winter with a wave power of level 10393. Most bad storms the power level doesn’t go much above 900. this power level is extremely rare. Also we had a very severally depleted dune system BECAUSE THE CZM, DEP AND ARMY CORPS WOULD NOT GIVE US PERMITS TO REPLENISH THE DUNE SYSTEM …. AT OUR OWN EXPENSE…. NO COST TO THE TAX PAYER !!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Cheryl Comeau

    The Kennedy family has homes on Cape Cod, 28
    Marchant Avenue in Hyannis Port. They installed a rock wall to protect their home
    from falling in to the sea. Plum Island people just want the same constitutional
    right to protect their homes as the Kennedy family. Go to Google maps
    and type in the address of the Kennedys and click on Birds Eye View and have a
    look at the nice protective rock wall they have. 

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