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Dredger leaving area; project remains on hold

The dredger Oyster Bay recently seen off the coast of Plum Island.

Posted on March 1, 2023

The Oyster Bay dredger is leaving the area after almost two months of little to no progress.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been working with H&L Contracting of New York to dredge 226,000 cubic yards of sand from the Newburyport and Salisbury sides of the Merrimack River.

The dredged sand will then be placed along the beach in Plum Island’s Reservation Terrace neighborhood, where a vacant home was damaged over Christmas weekend and could possibly be destroyed in another large storm.

But the $9 million federal project has seen more stops than starts since November.

An email sent to the Merrimack River Beach Alliance on Monday by state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, Newburyport Mayor Sean Reardon, Ward 1 City Councilor Sharif Zeid and Councilor at-Large Mark Wright indicated that H&L Contracting is removing some equipment it has been using because the tools have been deemed unsuitable to finish the work.

Harbormaster Paul Hogg said that means the 220-foot dredger Oyster Bay should be leaving the area soon.

“They were able to finish the 9-foot dredge (in Newburyport) in November but they haven’t started up since,” he said.

Reardon said his frustration with the project is a “10 out of 10.”

“I completely sympathize with residents and their frustration level as well,” he said. “To be honest, there hasn’t been any starts since they started this project and finished the 9-foot channel back in November and it’s never started up since then. So I think we’re all frustrated. We had high hopes when this contractor came in and when the Army Corps came in to do this dredge this year.”

The project, however, only received a single qualifying bid, according to the mayor.

“That’s another frustrating thing,” he added. “But this was the hand that we were dealt and we didn’t have any other options. We’re still hopeful that this can happen this year.”

Reardon also said the Oyster Bay appears to have packed up most of its equipment.

“As far as I can tell from the pictures I’ve been getting from residents, I think all the piping has all been picked up and a lot of the equipment that was specific to that dredge has been packed up,” he said.

The mayor added that the Oyster Bay will soon make way for another vessel more suited to the area’s climate and needs.

“The dredging equipment they have here now is not suitable for the combination of the weather here in the Northeast or at the river at the mouth of the Merrimack. So they are looking to bring in a different dredger that is much more able to handle the conditions of the mouth of Merrimack,” he said.

Hogg said local residents should see new equipment arriving by next week.

“Things here are not what they expected,” he said.

H&L Contracting and the Army Corps of Engineers have been working to meet a deadline of March 31 but Reardon said they are formally requesting a two-week extension.

“That way, they have a little bit more time to finish the work,” he said. “Then, I think the company’s going to have to subcontract for another dredge. But we’re not involved in those conversations. With an extension from the Army Corps, we can get this done in mid-April. But unfortunately, some of this is just out of our control and this is where we’re at right now.”

Troubles at Reservation Terrace stem from when the Army Corps of Engineers built the Plum Island breakwater without a spur roughly 10 years ago.

The email to the Merrimack River Beach Alliance also states that additional options are being explored to combat erosion, including long-term measures to eliminate the cause.

Members of the alliance are scheduled to meet March 3 at Plum Island Hall to discuss the issue further.


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