BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Work on the south jetty has been extended for at least 15 days thanks to the expected presence of a “plover monitor.”
The placement of heavy rock to fortify the jetty at the mouth of the Merrimack River had been scheduled to end Sunday as part of federal guidelines created so that the piping plovers can nest and procreate.
A spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers yesterday said that the jetty work can continue at least another 15 days past the deadline if a monitor is on site to ensure that appropriate conditions are maintained for the birds.
“We have a few names that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency has supplied,” said Ed O’Donnell, an engineering manager with the Corps of Engineers in Concord.
“The construction company will be responsible for putting a monitor on site and making sure conditions are good for the birds.”
The improvement of the jetties has been a major concern this spring due to significant erosion damage to dunes in front of homes on the south end of Plum Island’s developed coastline.
Corps officials say that if the south jetty is heightened and strengthened, it could shield the beach from storm-driven surf that is contributing to erosion. The thought that the work would stop on Sunday had troubled some homeowners and local officials.
Mayor Donna Holaday, for instance, spoke at a meeting of Plum Island homeowners recently and declared that there must be a balance between the needs of homeowners who live on the island and the plovers that migrate to the beach to lay their eggs. She criticized the federal Fish and Wildlife Service for putting a potential roadblock in the way of fixing the jetties in a timely manner.
The construction firm of HK & S, Inc. of Newport began bringing stone from Seabrook in early December. It has fortified and heightened about 600 feet of the south jetty, officials say.
Corps spokesmen say they are pleased with the progress and would like to keep working as long as possible. The jetty is about 1,200 feet long, according to state statistics.
The initial contract is for $3.6 million.
Federal officials have earmarked another $5.5 million to continue the jetty work. However, municipal officials say that the second phase must be put out to bid.
“Procurement laws requires Phase II to go to bid as a separate project,” said Andy Port, planning director of city of Newburyport.
O’Donnell yesterday said bids for the second phase won’t be extended for at least several weeks.
Local officials hope they can acquire funds to begin improvements on the north jetty, which is twice as long as the south jetty.
State Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, is attempting to obtain $100,000 for a study of the north jetty. Information obtained could be used in a funding proposal, but no planning funds have yet been approved, local officials say.
All discussion of work on the jetties has included consideration for the piping plover, a migratory bird that federal wildlife officials are trying to accommodate so its numbers increase.
Experts say that piping plovers migrate north beginning in mid-March. They begin mating and nesting on the beach in mid-April.
Males will begin claiming territories and pairing up in late March, according to authorities. When pairs are formed, the male begins digging out several nests, or scrapes, along the high shore near the beach grass line.
Females will choose a good scrape and will decorate the nest with shells and debris to hide it. Once a scrape is seen as sufficient, the female will allow the male to mate with her, according to experts.
The male begins a mating ritual of standing upright and “marching” toward the female, puffing himself up and quickly stomping his legs.
If the female had seen the scrape as adequate, she will allow the male to stand on her back and mating occurs within a few minutes, according to scientific literature.
Corps officials indicate that the person chosen to be the plover monitor will be charged with making sure the birds can find appropriate locales at which they can carry out their seasonal duties.