An ambitious project to restore Nantucket’s Jetties begins this fall.
More than a hundred years since their original construction, the jetties leading into Nantucket harbor have fallen into disrepair, making waypoints designed to aid mariners into potentially deadly hazards. At least one boat crashes into the jetties every year says Dave Fronzuto, Nantucket’s emergency management coordinator who has rescued people off the rocks for decades. “It was years of frustration,” he says. “You pluck them off the jetty and bring them in. And while your heart rate is coming back down, you say to yourself, ‘We really need to do something about this.’”
The potential danger of the jetties came into harsh focus in 2006 when a French sailboat, the Mary, ran into the east jetty. “He was coming in at 2 o’clock in the morning, coming down the channel, got disoriented, and turned around and put it up on the stones and it sank,” remembers Fronzuto. But instead of calling the Coast Guard, the operator of the Mary flagged down a passing fishing trawler, who threw his anchor line to the impaired vessel. The Mary’s crew brought the anchor on board and tied the line off the boat’s stern cleat. When the trawler went to pull the Mary off the rocks, the cleat snapped and ripped the anchor overboard, catching one of the sailors by the leg. He was ultimately airlifted to Boston where the limb was amputated.
Fronzuto said enough was enough. With the help of then Senator John Kerry and a portion of the money allocated from the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Fund, Fronzuto was able to help push forward a $10.2 million federal jetties restoration project that is scheduled to break ground, or water as it were, this fall. “This is one of the top five projects on the East Coast,” he says. “The last big jetties project the Army Corps of Engineers did was in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and it was eight thousand cubic yards of stone. This is four times that. From an engineering perspective this is a big, big project.” The project was originally scheduled to take place over this summer, but after considering the probable chaos of rebuilding the central throughway during the height of the busy season and still in the process of taking bids from a number of contractors, the Corps pushed it to the fall. In preparation for the project, an optical laser survey was conducted in which a device mounted to the bow of a boat swept the jetties, providing a full-resolution image for contractors to work from. Construction could begin as early as October 1st and might last for up to year.
Not surprisingly, restoring the jetties will require some pretty heavy lifting. Thirty-four thousand tons of stone will be freighted in on barges from quarries around the New England area and will be strategically placed using grappling barges. In an effort to preserve the thriving eelgrass habitats around the jetties, special jack-up barges, similar to those used on offshore drilling operations, will raise the barge off the water and eelgrass. Before the new rock is placed, the existing jetty will be dismembered and the old stones reset. “We’ll pull it apart and put it back together sort of like a big jigsaw puzzle,” explains Craig Martin, the project manager from the Army Corps of Engineers. “It’s not just the dumping of stone.”
Some on the island are concerned that the new jetties will tarnish the view of Nantucket Harbor. To this Martin replies, “It’s going to look better than it looks now. Right now it’s sort of in shambles. It looks like a pile of rock. The new structure will be interlocked. It will look much cleaner than it does now…the actual aesthetics will be improved.”
The east and west jetties are classified as half-tide jetties, meaning they remain mostly below the surface at high tide to allow for sand to pass over them. While the new jetties will technically remain half-tide jetties, their new heights will reflect the sea level rise anticipated over the next fifty years. As a result, they will indeed be more visible during high tide, thus improving their navigational effectiveness.
In addition to improving their appearance and their critical navigational value, the new jetties will also improve the harbor’s water quality. Today, when the harbor flushes with the outgoing tide, water escapes through the spaces between the rocks like holes in a garden hose. With the new jetties’ interlocked stones, the speed of the outgoing tide will increase, thus improving the flushing effect for the harbor.
The last time any work was done on the jetties was in the 1960s. Dave Fronzuto and the Army Corps of Engineers are confident that after this project is complete the future of the jetties will be solid — solid as a rock.