NEWBURYPORT — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has signed contracts with a marine engineering firm for work on the south jetty of the Merrimack River, and stone-carrying trucks are expected to roll in about three weeks.
Project manager Jack Karalius of the Corps told members of the Merrimack River Beach Alliance yesterday that HK & S Construction of Newport, R.I., has been vetted and approved for a $2.5 million project to fortify the jetty in an effort to control beach erosion.
The project could be more extensive than planned because the bid came in below the $3-$3.5 million the Corps had projected.
Federal officials say the south jetty is 1,400 feet long, and about 1,000 feet of that will be reworked with new stones and fortified construction.
HK & S will obtain mammoth stones in New Hampshire from land owned by operators of Seabrook Station, and will bring the rock south to create a loading zone on the public parking lot on the northernmost point of Plum Island.
No route has been chosen from Seabrook to Plum Island, and several island residents expressed concern that heavy trucks could compromise the quality of roads over the marsh and on the island itself.
Corps officials said that it is the contractor’s decision on what roads to take, but they said that heavy trucks generally avoid busy city thoroughfares with traffic lights and crossing pedestrians such as might be found on Merrimac Street and Water Street.
“The trucks will be making about a dozen round trips per day,” said Karalius, “and they will be moving eight hours a day, five days a week, through March 31.
“We have met with HK & S, and we’ve stressed the need for safety and concern for the streets and the beach. In the next couple weeks they will be bring out large mats that the trucks will pass over (sand beach) on the way to dumping stones at the jetty site.”
State Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, who chairs the MRBA, said, “The city of Newburyport has done studies on how much weight the roads will take, and that has been conveyed to the construction officials. We feel this project can be done safely.”
Leaders of the MRBA, made up of local, state and federal officials with authority relating to the oceanfront, say they want to fortify the north jetty as well, but there are no funds for that at present.
In a separate development, MRBA leaders say they will direct a letter to the Corps stating they are interested in utilizing about 700,000 cubic yards of sediment recently dredged from the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth.
Tarr and others have said that the sediment, which contains both fine and course sand, could be dumped perhaps 20 feet from the shore on Plum Island to serve as “beach nourishment.”
The Corps recently finished a dredging project in New Hampshire and appears willing to send the sediment to a beach community that is interested. The sediment would be sold under market price, perhaps about $2.75 per cubic yard rather than $14 per cubic yard.
“This is an incredible amount of sediment at bargain-basement prices,” said Tom Hughes, a scientist who heads Hughes Environmental Consulting in Newburyport and Concord, who attended the session.
Tarr, upon hearing the town of Wells, Maine, is among communities that has also expressed interest in obtaining the sediment, said the MRBA will send a letter to the Corps expressing interest. He urged officials of Newburyport, Newbury and Salisbury to also approach the Corps to convey their interest.
Such an infusion would be at least two years away if the Corps does decide to send the material to Plum Island.
In that time, officials still must determine who would pay for transporting and dumping the sand.
In a separate matter, Tarr reported that beach-scraping occurred in recent days and has been successful thus far.
He commended Bob Connors, a resident of Annapolis Way, Newbury, for waiting until the right time to scrape before using an earth-moving machine to relocate sand to battle erosion in front of five homes on that thoroughfare.
“The permit was given weeks ago, but there was no excess sand at that time,” said Tarr. “They waited until there was an amount they could move and then spread the sand in front of (vulnerable) houses.”
Tarr said that the owners of three more beachfront residences have been added to a list of houses that want to have scraping on their beachfronts, in addition to the five homes that are mentioned in the (successful) request for beach-scraping permits.
Tarr said that because of the success in obtaining scraping permits from state and federal agencies, the process of homeowners receiving permits could become easier to obtain in the future.