Menemsha jetty repairs to begin, pond dredging delayed for one year

The Army Corps of Engineers will put off a project to widen and deepen the channel into Menemsha Pond due to permitting delays.

The Menemsha jetty and the facing Lobsterville jetty are scheduled to be repaired this winter. — Photo by Michael Cummo

A Rhode Island marine construction firm is scheduled to begin work this week on a $1.3 million federal project to repair the two stone jetties that guard the entrance to Menemsha harbor and Menemsha Pond. The jetties were damaged by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.

RC&D Inc., of Pawtucket, R.I., the contractor awarded the bid for the repair work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is working within a tight window because of environmental restrictions and the desire of Chilmark town officials that the work not interfere with the summer tourist season.

Construction on the west jetty on the Aquinnah side of the channel must be completed by March 31, to avoid interfering with the migration of piping plovers on Lobsterville Beach and adjacent dunes. Work on the east jetty in Chilmark can continue through May 21, until the town needs full use of the town parking lot. The work will involve transporting heavy construction equipment, armor stone, and other project materials to Menemsha, much of it by water.

The Army Corps of Engineers will supervise the project. “The repair work will involve reconstructing both the east and west jetties to prestorm conditions,” said Craig Martin, project manager for the Army Corps New England District. “Approximately 1,950 tons of armor stone will be placed for the project.”

“Displaced armor stone will be retrieved and reused where applicable, and new stone will be set in place to fill existing gaps in the jetties,” the Army Corps wrote in a news release on Jan. 5. “Repairs will require substantial moving and rehandling of existing stones to obtain the required interlocking placement and construction tolerances.”

Funding for the project comes from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, a $60 billion program authorized by Congress.

Dredging delayed

Another phase of the Army Corp’s project to repair Hurricane Sandy damage, a $2 million plan to dredge the Menemsha channel, was scheduled to begin this winter, but will be delayed until next winter because of delays in securing the necessary state and federal permits. The dredging project will be limited to the months of October through January.

“Unfortunately, because of the extremely limited window to complete dredging,” Mr. Martin wrote in an October memo, “we are not going to be completing the dredging project this year. We simply couldn’t fit what we expect to be 2 to 2.5 months of work into a 1.5-month period left after the contract award and mobilization of equipment.”

The Army Corps was also concerned that it might not be able to find a company able and willing to take on the dredging project this winter. A similar-size project in Cohasset did not draw a single bid when it was offered last September.

“Due to all the Hurricane Sandy work from other districts and states in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, we are finding a saturated market in the hydraulic dredging sector,” Mr. Martin wrote.

The federal government intends to push forward with a request for bids in the early months of this year, so the dredging can begin in October.

Depth of unhappiness

In 1945, Congress authorized periodic maintenance dredging and repairs to the jetty, to insure safe passage of vessels seeking refuge from storms. The current project is designed to restore the channel between the jetties to a depth of 10 feet above mean low water, and eight feet deep along the 1.2-mile channel into Menemsha Pond. The Army Corps says parts of that channel have shoaled to depths of less than three feet, creating hazardous conditions for commercial and sport fishermen as well as recreational boaters. Sand dredged from the project will be placed on Lobsterville Beach, to reduce the impact of coastal erosion. Under the planned terms of the dredging project, the contractor will be allowed to work 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

The dredging project does not have the support of Chilmark selectmen. The town of Aquinnah and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) both favor the dredging project, as a way to improve the health of the pond by increasing water circulation, and to allow vessels access to Menemsha Pond.

Chilmark officials are worried about the effect on the scallop fishery and the potential for more and larger boats to use the federally designated channel to enter the pond. However, those town concerns were not enough to outweigh the Army Corps mandate to protect navigation through the federal channel.