By James Niedzinski
---- — ESSEX — Two state agencies, working under a joint partnership, are working to restore sections of salt marsh on the Castle Neck River along this town’s boundary with Ipswich.
The state Department of Ecological Restoration, a division of the state Department of Fish and Game, is teaming with the Northeast Mosquito Control District to remove sections of manmade walkways around the marsh.
Franz Ingelfinger, a restoration ecologist with the DERm said the walkways, made of large rocks, were acting as a dam, preventing water flow.
”Basically, the rocks and old crossings act like a speed bump to drainage,” he said.
Plants within the marsh need aeration and can be damaged by backed up water caused by the walkways, Ingelfinger said.
He said that, when water accumilates on the marsh due to rainfall or high tides, water can sit on top of the marsh for up to five days.
Ingelfinger said the project is wrapping up, and marsh restoration started last week.
The cost of the restoration came with a price tag of $20,000, and is being funded through a variety of different sources, including a Corporate Wetland Restoration Partnership grant and other state grants.
Emily Sullivan, wetlands project coordinator with the Northeast Mosquito Control District, said the area was a breeding ground for mosquitoes as well, when West Nile Virus and Eastern equine encephalitis both hit dangerous threat levels in Essex, Hamilton, Manchester and other communities last year.
She said that improving the water flow will allow fish to get up into the area to provide natural mosquito control.
The work had to be done in cooperation with the tide and involved escavation work to remove the rocks. Sullivan said this was the first step in a long-term project, with two other areas of the river being restored as well.
Joe Ahearn, owner of Down River Ice Cream, which sits on the Castle Neck River, said Monday that the difference is already palpable.
Ahearn, who has also served the town as its chairman of the Conservation Commission in the past, said the water levels in the nearby marsh have already gone down considerably. He added it changed the scenery for the better.
“It’s been a really fun project to watch,” he wrote in an email to the Times. “...it’s really changed the view from our shop.”
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.