By Dave Rogers
---- — PLUM ISLAND — Any concern that money would run out before repairs to the south jetty along Plum Island were completed evaporated yesterday with the announcement of an additional $5.5 million in funds for the project.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers secured the federal funds as part of the Disaster Appropriations Act of 2013 supported by U.S. Rep. John Tierney.
The additional funding coupled with the $3.5 million that was appropriated last February brings the total secured for the repair work to about $9 million.
“The recent winter storms have only reinforced how urgent this matter is for homeowners and the surrounding communities. With these funds, the corps advises that the south jetty project will be completed,” Tierney said.
But even with the new money, local and state lawmakers cautioned that work on the jetty is still expected to temporarily cease on March 31. That’s because April 1 marks the day that wildlife officials have earmarked for a cessation of construction activity so plovers, which migrate back to Plum Island each spring and summer, can arrive, nest and procreate.
Officials have been advocating for the additional funds since the original $3.5 million was awarded. Their most recent pleas came during last week’s Merrimack River Beach Alliance meeting, when members of the group said they would write letters to Tierney and other federal representatives asking for more funds.
By repairing the jetty, officials are looking to slow the erosion of Plum Island, which has been battered to the point where several houses on Annapolis Way in Newbury are in danger of falling into the ocean.
So far, about half of the 1,200-foot jetty has been heightened and reinforced.
Officials expressed relief that the most vital part of the protective rocky structure — the stone work under the mean high-tide mark — has been completed. They said they hope the Army Corps of Engineers will be able to reinforce an additional 200 feet by the end of March.
“It is very gratifying to see us reach milestone after milestone in terms of Plum Island,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, who represents a portion of Newbury on Beacon Hill.
But whether furbishing efforts continue after plover season ends remains a topic of discussion. Both Tarr and Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday said it made sense to continue working on the jetty until the job is completed since the Army Corps of Engineers was already there and hinted there might be a way to continue work without disrupting the plovers.
“I just don’t see how to complete another $5.5 million of work by the end of March,” Holaday said yesterday.
Tarr said the idea of discussing a work extension with environmental permitting officials was floated during last week’s beach alliance meeting. However, he added that obtaining the additional funding was more of a concern at that time than the March 31 deadline.
“This is a contingency we had hoped for,” Tarr said.
Despite the less-than-certain future of repair work past March 31, Holaday and other local and state officials expressed satisfaction with the announcement.
“It’s fabulous news,” Holaday said.
Newbury selectmen Chairman Joe Story said he was pleasantly surprised when word reached him. “I’m very happy over it,” he said.
Newly elected state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, said residents have wanted to see the project completed in its entirety for erosion control.
“It’s vital that we maintain the beaches as a natural resource. These new monies will make that possible,” Ives said.
And state Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, said securing enough money to finish the south jetty now will allow officials to concentrate more attention on the north jetty, which is also in need of reinforcement.
Also at last week’s meeting, beach alliance officials said they would continue to push for funds for the north jetty, which juts out about 2,200 feet into the mouth of the Merrimack River from Salisbury Beach.
No repairs have been scheduled on the north jetty and any money would first go toward a study to determine how best to improve it.