By John Macone
Newburyport Daily News Editor
---- — PLUM ISLAND — Last week’s storm has left behind yet another scar on the island, one that is being complicated by the federal government’s sequestration spending cuts.
The popular boardwalk at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge’s parking lot 1 was smashed by the waves and is closed indefinitely. The boardwalk provides one of the island’s best public access ways to the beach.
“The boardwalk sustained significant damage,” said Graham Taylor, refuge manager. “A fairly large chunk of it will have to be torn down and rebuilt.”
Complicating the repair is the federal government’s sequestration, which has caused spending cuts across many government agencies, including the one that manages the refuge, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Taylor said it is not known when the funds will be available to rebuild it.
“Working with it (the sequestration) is a lot more challenging for us,” said Taylor.
The sequester went into effect at the beginning of March, when Congress and President Obama failed to reach an agreement on balancing the federal government’s budget.
The boardwalk at parking lot 1 is the largest and most heavily used in the refuge. Located just inside the gate, it has 140 parking spaces — more spaces than all the other beach access lots combined. It also has a visitor building and a bathroom.
The boardwalk is not the only area of the refuge that sustained damage. Taylor said the area around Sea Haven, also known as the polio camp, saw severe erosion. It’s located about 4 miles from the refuge entrance, along a remote part of the beach that does not have direct pedestrian access.
The footpath that leads from the shore to the parking lot at Sandy Point State Reservation also saw some wash over, he said. Sandy Point is located at the southernmost tip of the island, about 6 miles from the refuge entrance.
The storm damage, coupled with ongoing road repairs and rare nesting occurrence, have greatly diminished the public’s ability to enjoy the refuge in recent weeks. Two beach access boardwalks — at parking lots 2 and 3 — have been closed since the storm. Taylor said that people were parking there and walking up to see the damage caused to homes along Annapolis Way and Fordham Way, both of which had been closed to the public. He said both boardwalks will be reopened once Newbury decides to reopen the beach along those two roads. That is expected to happen within days.
The refuge also has an ongoing road project that has closed the southern end of the refuge several days a week, and that restriction will remain in place until the work is completed in a few weeks. The 3-mile dirt road at the refuge’s southern end has not been repaired in years.
Also, the Bill Forward Bird Blind is closed to all public access due to the presence of an active great horned owl nest. The nest has attracted a flurry of visitors, and so the refuge closed off the area to give the owl some peace and quiet.