By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURYPORT — With an additional $5.5 million secured to ensure the completion of the Merrimack River south jetty refurbishing project on Plum Island, state and local officials are expected to turn their attention to asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lift its April 1 cut-off date to make repairs.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set the April 1 date for construction activity to cease so piping plovers, which migrate back to Plum Island each spring and summer, can arrive, nest and procreate. The plovers have been considered an endangered species by the federal agency since 1986.
State and local officials, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are expected to discuss whether to formally petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for an extension at next month’s meeting of the Merrimack River Beach Alliance, according to MRBA member state Sen. Bruce Tarr, who represents the Newbury section of Plum Island.
At first blush, it appears the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may be amenable to the idea. In an emailed statement, Meagan Racey, public affairs specialist for the service’s northeast region, said her agency recognized the urgency of completing the jetty project as quickly as possible.
“And we will work closely with the Corps and state and local officials to avoid unnecessary restrictions on the scope and timing of work, while meeting responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act,” Racey said.
The additional $5.5 million coupled with the $3.5 million that was appropriated last February for south jetty repairs brings the total secured for the project to about $9 million. Officials had been advocating for the additional funds since the original $3.5 million was awarded.
By repairing the south 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 have expressed relief that the most vital part of the protective rocky structure — the stone work under the mean high-tide mark — is finished. They have said they hope the Army Corps of Engineers will be able to reinforce an additional 200 feet by the end of March.
Last week, Tarr said the idea of discussing a work extension with environmental permitting officials was first floated during the most recent beach alliance meeting on Feb. 15. However, Tarr added that obtaining the additional funding was the priority at that time.
But with that money now secured, both Tarr and Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday said it makes sense to continue working on the jetty until the job is completed since the Army Corps of Engineers is already onsite.
“I just don’t see how to complete another $5.5 million of work by the end of March,” Holaday said late last week.