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Dredge Project Off Plum Island Delayed

The north section of Plum Island lies between the Merrimack River estuary and the ocean. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Posted on January 19, 2023

NEWBURYPORT — Work on the Salisbury portion of the dredging project off of Plum Island has yet to resume after a Christmastime storm wreaked havoc on the pipe system that had been depositing sand onto a threatened section of beach.

According to city officials, the project restart date has been pushed to next week but, as far as one Reservation Terrace resident is concerned, the sooner the work is finished, the better.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been spearheading a $9 million federal project to dredge 226,000 cubic yards of sand from the Newburyport and Salisbury sides of the Merrimack River. The dredged sand would then be deposited on the beach at Plum Island’s Reservation Terrace.

New York-based H&L Contracting has been performing the dredging work and the 9-foot dredge on the Newburyport side of the river was completed in November.

But the 15-foot Salisbury dredge work has been unable to begin since the project ran into problems when a Christmas weekend storm washed up a roughly 16-inch diameter pipe and the project has been on hold ever since.

Reservation Terrace resident and at-large City Councilor Mark Wright said his house is now surrounded by four feet of dredged sand that was washed ashore during the Christmas weekend storm.

“Most of the sand that was placed on the beach has ended up in and around the streets and houses along that section. So, now the water, even without any kind of storm surge, is right up against the remnants of the rock wall that had been placed there. So, until we get some significant volume of sand out there, we are going to continue to be vulnerable,” he said.

The Salisbury dredge had been rescheduled to begin as soon as last weekend but Newburyport Harbormaster Paul Hogg said Wednesday he was told by H&L Contracting that work will resume early next week.

“They are shooting for next Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest. They are getting the piping hooked up and the only thing that can stop it is the weather and the Army Corps of Engineers giving their final blessing,” he said.

Hogg went on to say the dredging work would begin just outside of the mouth of the river and by the south jetty.

“They pulled the crew to work on another job. But they should be on their way back now,” he said.

Wright added that only 10% of the dredged sand has been placed on Reservation Terrace beach.

“You never know the strength of the next storm and what the impact can be,” he said.

Plum Island is a barrier beach that is needed to protect the surrounding area from the Atlantic Ocean, according to Wright who added that it will offer less and less protection to the local area if it continues to erode.

“This is needed to protect all of downtown Newburyport. If we don’t fix this issue and there is less and less of Plum Island, that will have serious consequences for all of Newburyport,” he said.


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