Oak Bluffs North Bluff seawall nears completion

Eight years in the making, the fortified seawall and boardwalk are expected to be completed by the June 30 deadline, weather permitting.

Project engineer Carlos Pena walks along the still to be completed boardwalk that will stretch along the seawall. — Sam Moore

Tuesday morning at the North Bluff seawall in Oak Bluffs, an excavator operator was deftly fitting boulders atop each other, interlocking them with the skill of a stonemason working by hand. The boulders will complete the revetment for the new $5.6 million seawall and boardwalk, and front the new corrugated steel wall. At the same time, they will buttress Seaview Avenue, and the abutting properties, from nor’easters and sea-level rise for years to come.

Project manager Dave Lager, from Lexington-based Netco, gave town officials a tour of the new seawall. He said the project will be completed by the June 30 deadline, on budget.

“This is awesome,” selectman Kathy Burton said, taking in a stretch of new boardwalk that will connect the harbor to the public state fishing pier. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Completion of the project will mark the end of an eight-year campaign. Initial engineering studies for the North Bluff seawall began shortly after the Pay Beach seawall south of the Steamship Authority terminal collapsed in 2008. The town applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after the North Bluff was further damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but after years of to-and-fro with a rotating lineup of FEMA engineers, town officials instead looked to, and successfully lobbied, the state for $5.6 million in funding — $3.6 million from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) dam and seawall fund, and $2 million from the state Seaport Advisory Council — which was approved last June.

Just when it looked like the pieces had fallen into place, the project was further delayed by a flawed bidding process and a last-minute referral by the Oak Bluffs planning board to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

“People really should see this,” selectman Michael Santoro said. “I think it would really take the edge off the people who were against it.”

“This is a whole lot of project for $5.5 million,” FinCom member Steve Auerbach said.

Netco project representative Steven LeBaron said the crews, half of whom commuted from Falmouth, worked six days a week throughout the winter and only missed four days due to weather. Because the beach is submerged at high tide, sometimes crews had to synchronize work schedules with tide charts.

Mr. LeBaron said the 12-foot-wide ekki wood boardwalk will be about 75 percent complete by Memorial Day. The stone revetment will be about 90 percent complete.

During the month of June, the bank between Seaview Avenue and the boardwalk will be completely filled in, and vegetation planted on it. The concrete for the wheelchair access ramp will be poured, and a new sidewalk will be built along Seaview Avenue.

One last thing has to be decided by selectmen — the design of the six lights that will be installed on the boardwalk. Carlos Pena, project engineer from CLE Engineering, said the pole bases and conduits will be complete, so lights can be installed at a later date, but the town will save money if a decision can be reached soon.

“I plead with you to make a decision,” Mr. Lager said to the selectmen.

“I guess we better put the lights on our agenda for next week,” Ms. Burton said.