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State OK’s rebuilding 2 homes on Plum Island

Months after an ocean storm flogged the beaches of Plum Island, destroying three houses and damaging several others beyond salvation, the state has granted approval for two homeowners to rebuild on the same sites, officials said.

“Three applications to rebuild homes lost on Plum Island have been filed,” said Ed Coletta, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection. “Two of the three have been approved because they comply with the standards of the Wetlands Protection Act.”

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The third application was not approved because it did not comply.

In addition to the houses destroyed in the early March nor’easter, 13 were deemed uninhabitable. Six of those were demolished because of structural damage from beach erosion, officials told the Globe in March. At least another 40 houses on the barrier island were at risk of damage.

“This winter was terrible. We got hit with storms starting with Sandy, going into the blizzard of 2013, and then the March storms,” said Harry Trout, who lost his home on Fordham Way in March and is seeking to rebuild. “And we also had storms without names that came and went on a weekly basis.”

Trout’s application is the one that has not yet been approved.

The applications that have been OK’d were filed by the Tuthill and Kirkpatrick families, who own parcels on Fordham Way, the homeowners said.

“We have been cleared by the DEP,” said Gingie Tuthill, whose family has owned the property for 40 years.

Tuthill added that getting approval from the state environmental agency was not an easy process.

“We have had to hire three engineers to help us get through this project; it is unbelievable what DEP demands of homeowners,” she said. “So far as we know, DEP has gone away from us.”

A member of the Kirkpatrick family confirmed that their application was approved, but declined to comment further.

The applications to rebuild first had to be approved by the Newbury Conservation Commission and other local boards before coming under state purview, Coletta said.

“They have to get the local approval for the projects and then come to us and we have to ensure that the plans will meet the standards as outlined in the Wetlands Protection Act,” he said.

“In the one case that has not yet been approved, the application was insufficient and didn’t comply with performance standards so [the agency] has intervened,” Coletta said. Last month, the state agency “sent a request to Mr. Trout requesting more information on his project. Our hope is that he will provide that information and we can move forward to the approval process.”

Trout said that after the town’s conservation commission approved his filing to rebuild, the state sent him a notice of intervention and asked to visit the site themselves. Now, he is working to ensure that his application is complete.

“I am in the process of complying with their wishes and demands. They’re things I was going to comply with anyway, without their intervention,” he said. “I’m going to hire an environmentalist to make sure I have my i’s dotted and t’s crossed.”

In addition to locating the rebuilt homes further away from the dunes and building on pilings, residents have said that they need to be able to do more to ensure the safety of their homes. But measures such as adding concrete barriers to dune areas are prohibited under state environmental regulations, which coastal residents have long criticized as overly strict.

“The Wetlands Protection Act does not allow the armoring of the beach or beach property,” Coletta said. “It is a very dynamic system there where it is a barrier beach and the sand moves in and moves out depending on wave action and all sorts of natural factors. That’s something that has to be considered here.”

But homeowners said their right to defend homes from Mother Nature should supersede the conditions of the act.

“If you can buy a gun and keep it inside your front door we should be able to do what is necessary to protect our homes,” Tuthill said.

Colin A. Young can be reached at colin.young@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ColinAYoung.
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