, Newburyport, MA

December 4, 2012

Rocks rumbling to PI jetty


---- — NEWBURY — Members of the Merrimack Valley Beach Alliance were meeting yesterday morning on Plum Island here, when a heavily loaded 18-wheeler rumbled by.

“There goes some stone,” said Edward O’Donnell, a project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “The jetty project is really getting started.”

O’Donnell was meeting with state and local leaders at the offices of the Plum Island Taxpayers and Associates to update them on the progress of the $3.6 million jetty-fortification project.

But it’s likely that the arrival of a stone-laden carrier had more impact than the most eloquent report that O’Donnell could have verbalized.

After more than a year of planning, politicking and pondering the construction process, the project to rebuild the south jetty of the Merrimack River is beginning.

The stone is coming from a field adjacent to Seabrook Station nuclear power plant in New Hampshire and workers have begun moving it to the base of the south jetty. The stone was left over from excavations that were made during the plant’s construction.

A temporary thoroughfare of heavy boards has been built across the sand dunes at the northern tip of Plum Island in recent weeks, and vehicles have started moving the huge boulders either to the jetty or the nearby Plum Island parking lot — depending on the size of the truck.

Engineers say that they hope to fortify up to 1,000 feet of the 1,400-foot-long south jetty. The jetty has several gaps in it through which ocean and river currents can rush. These currents are believed to be causing significant erosion damage to the island. The work is expected to repair the bulk of the gaps.

Completion date is slated for March 31 — a date chosen so that peace and quiet can prevail for the nesting piping plovers, which federal officials say have priority beginning April 1.

In other business, members of the MRBA learned local beach communities are not eligible for relief funding as a result of Superstorm Sandy.

Cynthia Lewis, a staff assistant to state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, who heads the MRBA, said that a county must receive in excess of $2.5 million damage in order to qualify for relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Alliance members didn’t dispute the finding of relief officials that rejected local claims.

But leaders said that selectmen and municipal staffers must document the condition of their beaches now so that they will have proper paperwork with which to apply after a future storm.

“If damage is not documented, relief funding won’t happen,” said Salisbury Selectman Jerry Klima, who serves as vice-chairman of the MRBA.

He suggested that municipal employees in Newbury, Newburyport and Salisbury chart and document the amount of sand and dunes that currently exist.

If a future storm damages a beach or accelerates erosion, local officials can use such data to document the size of loss.