By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Captains of commercial crafts navigating the Merrimack River should be on the lookout for dozens on wooden planks that were blown into the water sometime during last week’s powerful nor’easter.
The 4-feet-wide-by-12-feet-long planks, called crane mats, are owned by HK & S Construction, the company working with the Army Corps of Engineers to repair the river’s south jetty.
HK & S Construction spokesman Hugo Key said the planks were used to create a temporary road for heavy equipment and the hauling of large boulders as they travel from the Plum Island Point staging area, across sand dunes and to the jetty.
To save time, the planks were left in place after each day’s work and secured with steel cable.
The storm proved to be too much for the steel cable and the dozens of mats were lost.
Newburyport harbormaster Paul Hogg said some of the planks have already washed ashore and Key believes the majority of them are located in marshy areas of Plum Island. But there is enough concern to alert the few captains still operating boats this time of year.
“If anybody sees them, we would like to get them out of the way. They’re heavy and they’ll definitely do some damage,” Hogg said.
Newburyport U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Castrillo yesterday said the Coast Guard is not actively looking for them.
Key said his company has already replaced the planks and that the $3.6 million project will not be delayed.
“It won’t impact the progress; we continue to work,” Key said.
However, Key said he is talking with the Army Corps of Engineers about how to best secure or store the new planks so the next powerful storm doesn’t send them floating away.
“It’s going to be an ongoing issue during the season,” Key said, referring to securing the planks.
By the end of March, officials hope, 1,000 feet of the 1,400-foot-long south jetty will be fortified. Currently, the jetty has several gaping holes that allow ocean and river currents to rip right through them. By repairing the jetty, officials are looking to slow the erosion of Plum Island, which has been battered to the point where several houses on Annapolis Way in Newbury are in danger of falling into the ocean.