Greater Newburyport prepares for a massive snowstorm | News
PLUM ISLAND – Long before the first snowflakes from what could be Saturday’s record snowstorm fell on Greater Newburyport, residents and community leaders spent much of Friday preparing for the best possible winter explosion.
At noon on Friday, officials in Salisbury, Amesbury and Newburyport declared snow emergencies in their communities from 6 p.m. Around the same time, Plum Island residents and others listened intently to the Merrimack River Beach Alliance meeting virtually to discuss how the storm would affect the fragile shoreline. Newbury fire and police chiefs were also due to meet around noon to work out the best strategy to ensure island residents have access to emergency services if needed.
Greater Newburyport is expected to receive up to 2 feet of snow during the storm which is expected to start late Friday evening and continue through Saturday evening. The massive northeast could experience blizzard-like conditions and lead to potential coastal flooding and power outages.
Newburyport’s utility department manager, Anthony Furnari, said 24 staff, supplemented by 24 contractors, will be outside to keep the city’s streets as clear as possible. Unlike the region’s first hard-hitting snowstorm a few weeks ago, Furnari County will not be shorthanded. During this previous storm, there were absences due to cases of COVID-19.
“We have a full staff,” Furnari said, adding that because the storm is happening on a non-school day, it gives workers more time to clean up.
Furnari said the city will “ban cars off the street due to the severity of this storm.”
During a Zoom meeting of the Merrimack River Beach Alliance on Friday morning, Newburyport Fire Chief Christopher LeClaire said his staff would speak with those in the Plum Island flood zone ahead of the storm.
Additional emergency crews will be on standby, monitoring the situation for road collapses and concerns with propane tanks and utilities on the island, he said.
Jamie Tuccolo, assistant manager of the Newburyport Utilities Department, said the last 75th Street sluice pit has been closed until the storm passes as a precaution. Another home on Reservation Terrace had its utilities disconnected due to concerns about high tide.
Salisbury’s Tom Saab said someone needs to call the governor to immediately declare an emergency for Salisbury Beach and Plum Island, so the sand clearing of the roads can begin Monday without delay.
State Senator Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, acknowledged Saab’s concern and said those conversations would take place.
“If we need to activate resources, we will do so,” said Newburyport Mayor Sean Reardon.
He noted that residents should refer to www.cityofnewburyport.com and the city’s social media channels for the latest updates during the storm. Reverse 9-1-1 calls will also be used.
Salisbury City Manager Neil Harrington said the city will post updates on www.salisburyma.gov and the city’s social media pages, along with Code Red alerts.
Shelters are being set up at The Salvation Army in Newburyport and Plum Island Taxpayers & Associates Hall in Newbury with the Salisbury Council on Aging building available if needed.
Salisbury Police Chief Thomas Fowler said he and Fire Chief Scott Carrigan would monitor Beach Road and Route 286 during Saturday’s two high tides. High tides are forecast for around 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. If these roads become impassable, a National Guard ocean-going vehicle can be used to reach stranded residents in need of assistance.
“This is obviously a severe winter storm and people should prepare accordingly,” Fowler said.
Salisbury Beach Betterment Association president Bill Grellich said beach residents were anxious on Friday morning.
“Obviously you should be worried if you live on the beach,” Greilich said. “We know we have a so-called hotspot between public access roads 6 and 7. It’s an area that’s really kind of our ground zero. This area is battered and was heavily impacted during the Nor’ easter than we’ve had two weeks This storm is likely to exceed that, in terms of intensity.”
Most of the sacrificial sand dunes in the area of public access roads 6 and 7, he added, were washed away during the last winter storm two weeks ago.
“We’re obviously very, very concerned about that as well,” Greilich said. “We also have these astronomical tides with the new moon coming in. So it’s obviously a bit of a double whammy with the storm if it hits at the same time.”
Plum Island Taxpayers Association President Ron Barrett, who was leading the effort at Plum Island Hall on Friday afternoon, said the building will be open during the storm where beds, coffee and food will be available. Since the building has its own generator, in the event of a Plum Island power outage, residents can be assured of a warm, well-lit place to weather the storm.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Barrett said.
Newbury Police Chief John Lucey Jr. said an ambulance, fire truck and police cruiser would be stationed at Plum Island Hall for the duration of the storm. There are no plans to close the island or force residents to leave, but Lucey said beach access points and the center of Plum Island will be closed and barricaded to discourage storm watchers. Police will be monitoring these points to make sure people stay away.
“There will also be emergency personnel in Byfield and the Old Town. This is to facilitate a quick and safe response to any emergencies that may arise in these areas as well. I have also been in close and frequent communication with the Newbury Public Works Department and they are fully staffed and ready to respond to this event,’ Lucey wrote in a separate statement.
Lucey encouraged the residents of Plum Island to leave the island if they have somewhere to go during the storm.
“It’s not a bad idea,” Lucey said.