"Once it gets exposed to air, it starts to immediately deteriorate," Kolterjahn said.
At the Maryland Archeological and Conservation Laboratory, part of the state-run Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum, the pier fragment will spend many months immersed in fresh water. By doing so, saltwater inside the piece will dissipate. Later, polyethylene glycol will be added to the water to further preserve it before it is sliced open so scientists can more accurately date it, Harris said.
By studying the tree used to make the pier fragment, specifically, by counting the number of rings it has, scientists will be able to end speculation on when the pier was built. Harris said the best guess so far has the pier built around 1764.
Once the piece is restored and dated, it will return to Newburyport, where it will be displayed inside the city's Custom House Maritime Museum. Harris expects its return by summer 2012.
The entire project, including transportation, will cost a little less than $4,000, and it is hoped the city will be able to use money from the Community Preservation Act fund to pay for it, Harris said.
The CPA allows communities to collect additional taxes from residents if the funds are used to preserve open space and historic sites or create affordable housing and recreational facilities.
Harris said he will soon go before the city's Community Preservation Committee, hoping to secure enough funds to foot the entire bill. But because the committee has already allocated all its funds for fiscal 2010, the earliest that the money could be secured for the project is in October.
Yesterday, along with the pier segment, Harris handed over a check for $1,770, covering half the restoration fee plus transportation and a document signed by Mayor Donna Holaday authorizing the project.
The funds came from Pieter Hartford, the project manager for the treatment plant construction, who agreed to front the money until the city could pay him back, Harris said.