GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 31, 2013

Essex revisits need for river work

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — ESSEX — After getting a proposal from an engineering firm, town officials are considering asking voters at a special town meeting this fall for money to study the removal of encroachments along the Essex River, with an eye toward dredging the river.

The proposal, by GZA GeoEnvironmental Associates Inc. of Norwood, looks to survey piles, floats and other encroachments in the federal channel of the Essex River from the land and local marinas. From there, the engineers would issue a report and meet with stakeholders, marina owners, and town officials to discuss how to remove the encroachments, by moving the federal channel itself or moving the encroachments.

The total cost for the study, should it be presented and get approved at a special town meeting, would be about $26,990.

Monday night, selectmen discussed the idea of having Perkins, Pike and Wise marinas in Essex contribute toward the total cost of the study.

“Their input on the scope (of the encroachment study) is going to be helpful also,” Selectmen Lisa O’Donnell said.

The most expensive portion of the study, $7,350, is pegged for the actual survey of the land and marinas.

O’Donnell added that if the cost of the study was decreased, it would have a better chance getting voter approval in November.

The study would also measure the shape of the seabed and water levels.

Selectmen proposed a similar article at the Annual Town Meeting last May, asking voters at that time to back a $50,000 encroachment study, and voters shot down the measure.

The end goal would be to have the river dredged; the proposal cites a study done in 2008 by the Army Corps of Engineers which pointed out encroachment and shoal issues. And the Army Corps of Engineers is not likely to fund a project with so many encroachments, according to the proposal.

To dredge or not to dredge is a public safety concern as well, say town officials, including Police Chief and Harbormaster Peter Silva, who supports the river dredging.

Silva was one of the Essex officials at a Plum Island meeting last week with the members of the Merrimack River Beach Alliance and with officials from Ipswich and Gloucester to discuss dredging the Annisquam and Essex rivers. And some talks there focused on the Army Corps of Engineers.

But the Army Corps devotes most of its river aid to places that see more industry shipping and trade routes, rather than waterways like the Essex River, which is used more for recreation.

As Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki reiterated, the Army Corps of Engineers, dredging the Essex River would be a costly process.

“The actual dredging of the river would cost many millions of dollars,” he said.

Harold Burnham, an Essex shipbuilder and one of the many residents present at the May Annual Town Meeting who unanimously voted against the encroachment article, said he didn’t see benefits to any such project, either.

“The dredging of the river is basically a waste of time and effort,” he said Tuesday. “It actually exacerbates the problem.”

Burnham, who said he often has the largest, heaviest boats on the river, added that excessive speeding on the river would be more prevalent if the river was dredged. That speeding and increased boating traffic would create more wakes, leading to erosion and ultimately filling the river back up.

“You’re just going to encourage the destruction of marshes and barrier beaches,” he said.

The river was last dredged in 1993 by the state with about 19,380 cubic yards of sediment removed and around 1,000 cubic yards from local marinas, according the proposal.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.