A year ago the Massachusetts coast was hit with three winter storms that arrived with a devastating combination of wind, precipitation, and abnormally high tides. Reports of damage in Marblehead focused immediately on highly visible and well known areas: sea walls around the harbor and Neck, Grace Oliver Beach, Little Harbor, and shoreline structures near these locations. Damage was serious, calling for quick but temporary repair to be followed soon after with both a plan for more robust repair and a long-range survival assessment should global warming increase the frequency of such destructive weather.

Damage to the Salem Harbor shoreline in Marblehead was not immediately obvious, but as it turned out, was quite serious. Walking the shoreline at low tide revealed substantial erosion of the banking along the section bordering the Wyman Woods and Lead Mills conservation areas. In particular, a good part of the banking that had been replaced and replanted as part of the Lead Mills remediation in 2010 – 2011 had washed away. Trees and shrubs that had been planted to anchor the slope were gone or fallen, and the top of the slope had been cut back in places to about six feet from the edge of the former rail bed. Since Marblehead’s electric power is routed under that part of the rail bed, the erosion was serious and threatening should additional erosion occur. All this was reported to the appropriate Town authorities.

Marblehead performed a survivability assessment in June in preparation for State support in addressing identified issues. The results included a statement from Marblehead Light Department that stabilization of the Salem Harbor shoreline at Lead Mills was their top concern. An immediate effort succeeded in placing large rocks along the damaged slope, but caused collateral damage to the adjacent conservation areas where a roadway and staging area were cleared to give heavy equipment working space and access to the shore.

With winter on its way after the shoreline repair, there was only enough time to do expedient repairs of the newly disturbed conservation areas. October and November brought considerable rain, enough to create a pond in a temporary staging area where Lead Mills meets Wyman Woods (See photo above). With the grass gone from the area and the soil crushed from passage of heavy equipment, collected rainwater drains slowly. A job for 2019 will be to take more corrective actions restoring the meadow and walking trails.