Posted on October 13, 2022
The highly anticipated and long-awaited Merrimack River dredging project is about to begin with boats, barges, pumps and pipes having recently converged upon the Plum Island Point area.
The $9 million project will see 220,000 to 300,000 cubic yards of sand dredged from the Merrimack and Piscataqua rivers and placed on Plum Island to add more than 400 feet of beachfront to rebuild Reservation Terrace.
“This project has been a long time coming and I am thrilled it is about to begin,” Mayor Sean Reardon said in an email Friday. “I want to thank our state and federal partners for helping us navigate this process with the Army Corps of Engineers. I also want to thank the resilient residents of Plum Island for their continued advocacy of this project.”
Reardon said the project, which he called the first step of addressing issues with the Reservation Terrace neighborhood of Plum Island, will officially begin this week.
“After we replenish the beach with 250,000 cubic yards of sand, we can immediately begin discussions with the Army Corps of Engineers on fixing the issues with the jetty that is causing the beach to disappear. The dredge is an important first step and I am thrilled we are getting this in before going through another storm season here on the island,” Reardon wrote in a statement.
Over the last couple of years, Reservation Terrace homes have been inching closer to falling into the ocean as the sandy beaches around them were lost to quick-moving erosion. Roughly two years ago, a road in front of houses was washed away. And last winter, one home was condemned due to flooding. Since then, the city and state added sandbags and a stone wall along the edge of the street that has temporarily stabilized, according to one homeowner.
The Newburyport Harbormaster’s Office released intricate details of the massive undertaking on its Facebook page late last month and revealed the project will be an around-the-clock endeavor.
“The 20-foot dredge Oyster Bay will be performing dredging in the channel outside of the inlet at 42°49’03”N 70°48’01”W. with the dredge pipe located along the south side of the inlet. The 16-foot dredge, Finn, will be performing dredging at multiple locations in the main harbor channel with the dredge pipe located on the south side of the channel,” the post reads. “All dredge pipes will be marked and lit I.A.W. Coast Guard Regulations. Channel crossings will be provided with the dredge pipe submerged and marked with temporary red and green buoys. Work hours are 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There will be two dredges, multiple push boats, skiff, booster pump barge, equipment barge, and dredging pipeline on scene.”
The Plum Island Point parking lot has been transformed into the project’s staging area. It is where Site Safety Health Officer Theopholis Mantzanas has been directing traffic and making sure workers are staying safe. The Haztek Safety Management Co. foreman said their appearance has drawn plenty of attention from nearby residents and visitors to the barrier island.
“Lots of people say how thankful they are we’re here,” Mantzanas said, adding that has not always been the case on other beach job sites.
On Friday, the Finn was spotted in the Merrimack River roughly halfway between Salisbury and Newburyport.
Once sand is captured by a powerful vacuum-like device, it will then be funneled through a series of pipes until it is dumped onto the Plum Island beach, explained one worker from Louisiana.
The dredge will soon be joined by the larger and more powerful Oyster Bay along with a fuel barge. Dozens of massive black pipes that will be attached to the larger barge were stacked on top of each other in the parking lot.
Motorists driving onto Plum Island will notice an electronic road sign alerting them that Plum Island Point will be closed until the end of March, the estimated completion date of the project. There were several cars parked in the lot and plenty of foot traffic when a reporter visited the site Friday noon. Reardon is encouraging residents to visit the city’s website for information on the dredging project at cityofnewburyport.com/planning-development/harbor-dredging-project.