By Angeljean Chiaramida
---- — SEABROOK — The Army Corps of Engineers’ dredge of Seabrook/Hampton Harbor is going to have to clear another hurdle before local officials consider it complete.
Seabrook Public Works manager John Starkey said he isn’t satisfied with repairs made to town property damaged by dredge equipment.
Last week, Starkey told selectmen he refused to agree to allow the Corps’ dredge contractor Southwind Construction Corporation of Indiana to leave without doing more work.
“There were more flies in the ointment” during this dredge than in others that came before it, Starkey said, a claim others in town have also made.
The $3.1 million project, which began last November, involved hydraulicly dredging about 172,000 cubic yards of sand from the harbor, then pumping it back onto beaches in Hampton and Seabrook.
The work camp for the dredge, which included heavy equipment, hundreds of feet of piping and other vehicles, was set up on Seabrook property by the harbor and beach.
Starkey said during the work, the town’s chain-link fencing was damaged, as was its boardwalk near Hooksett Street. The ground around Harborside Park was also disturbed, he said. Starkey said he is also concerned about possible damage done to the town’s beach dunes and dune grass, which are environmentally protected.
If local officials or residents harm beach grass or the dunes, Starkey said they’re chastised by state and federal wetlands officials. He’s worried the town will shoulder the responsibility when wetlands officials learn about the damage.
“They restored the chain-link fence, but there’s some damage that needs a second look,” Starkey told selectmen. “If we step on the beach grass, we get into trouble. I don’t think the town of Seabrook should be left holding the bag on any issue.”
Issues have plagued the project all along the way. For starters, selectmen agreed to allow an 800-foot-long snow fence to be installed along the beach to protect piping plover nesting areas after state and federal wildlife officials said the birds had been harassed by some beachfront property owners.
The fence runs from Hooksett Street south along a stretch of beach where there are numerous homes. Although town-owned access ways at the end of streets are left open, several private access trails over the dunes were closed. Many beach residents have been up in arms that their once pristine views of the ocean are now undermined by the spikes of snow fencing.
While the plans for fencing were announced last October, Selectman Aboul Khan said he still gets numerous calls from beach residents furious that the board allowed it to be installed on the town-owned portion of the beach because of government pressure. Khan said during numerous discussions with state and federal regulators, selectmen found themselves torn between fencing to protect plover nesting areas and a clogged-up harbor that was hampering the state’s struggling commercial fishing fleet. Khan said the town had little choice but to go along with the wildlife agencies’ demands. He said if officials had refused the fencing mandate, the dredge of the busiest commercial harbor in New Hampshire would have been held up. Further, he said, Seabrook would have forfeited ever getting sand to replenish its beach in the future.
The dredge encountered more trouble in late November when a 35,000-pound excavator ended up in 16 feet of water under the Hampton Harbor Bridge after falling off a barge used to couple dredge piping together.
The accident happened after Southwind personnel noticed its unmanned barge in the outer harbor was taking on water. The 10-foot-tall, 28-foot-long John Deere 160 LC excavator fell off as workers tried to sail the barge back from the outer harbor to the Seabrook dock.
About halfway to their destination, as the barge listed badly, the excavator snapped its cable and slid into the water. Resting in the boating channel under the Hampton Harbor Bridge, the sunken excavator was considered a hazard to navigation by the U.S. Coast Guard.
The mishap held up up the dredge until Dec. 5 when Southwind brought in East Boston-based BTT Marine Construction Company and Portsmouth’s Black Dog Divers to retrieve the equipment. No one was injured and the spectacle drew scores of people who watched the rescue, but the Coast Guard and other government agencies are still investigating the incident and fines and penalties could result.