Repairs to the jetties and wing walls at the mouth of the Kennebunk River will take place starting next summer, says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Most of the work is on the Kennebunkport side, and will require closure of Colony Beach, said a Army Corps project manager. Selectmen in Kennebunkport have expressed dismay about the stated beach closure. Tammy Wells photo

KENNEBUNKPORT – Selectmen here are unhappy about the timing of planned repairs to the jetty and wing wall on the east side of the Kennebunk River that a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager said will likely start in June – and mean the closure of Colony Beach.

“We’re not happy with the time frame,” said Selectmen’s Board Chair Allen Daggett on Monday. “The selectmen and town manager agreed it would be devastating. We’re doing everything we can. Hopefully the Army Corps will find another way.”

The project itself makes repairs to the wing walls and jetties on both the east, or Kennebunkport side of the river, and on the west, or Kennebunk side. In all, the project cost is pegged between $1 million and $5 million and is fully funded by the U.S. government.

According to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Coral Silgato, bids for the project are expected to be awarded in April, for construction starting in the summer of 2021. The entire project is expected to take about seven months. She said a June start date for  the Kennebunkport side was expected, though it could start earlier.

“We’ve gone through hell this year with COVID and business suffered greatly and now we’ll suffer again; it’s unrealistic,” said Daggett.

Select boards of both towns met with Silgato online late last month to hear about the project that repairs the 600-foot stone jetty on the eastern side of the inlet and a 240-foot wing wall connecting the jetty with the eastern shore adjacent to Colony Beach, along with the 290-foot jetty on the western side of the channel with a 270-foot stone wing wall connecting the jetty with the western shore in Kennebunk, adjacent to Gooch’s Beach. The jetties were last repaired in the 1980s, and the wing walls in the 1960s.

” Are you saying we have to close Colony Beach for the summer,” asked Daggett during the meeting.

“Yes,” Silgato responded.

Kennebunkport selectwoman Sheila Matthews-Bull asked if the project could start earlier, so part of the summer beach season might be salvaged on the Kennebunkport side, or if the project could be started on the Kennebunk side, as the beaches there would not need to be closed.

“You’re hitting us at the height of our summer season,” said Matthews-Bull.

Silgato said the Army Corps “would love to” start in April. She said the planning and specifications work was ongoing and targeted for completion in early 2021, and once environmental coordination is complete, the corps would request temporary easements from the towns.

She said it is possible the work could start earlier, but June is the “best guess.” When asked by Kennebunkport selectman Mike Weston about the possibility of delaying the project for a year, she said there are safety concerns with the Colony Beach parking lot, and that if there was a delay, Congress could take the money back. Silgato went on to say that there is less work  on the Kennebunk jetty and wing wall than on the Kennebunkport side, so it would take less time.

“I’m being conservative (with the schedule), ” said Silgato. “We definitely want to work with the town.”

“We lost this year due to Covid and we can’t lose the parking lot again … it makes no sense,” said Weston. “I know this has to get done, I think you need to take a break or start earlier.”

Silgato said the successful bidder would meet with the towns and come up with a schedule. “We can’t dictate means and methods,” she said.

“However, you could suggest,” said Matthews-Bull.

In an email Monday, Town Manager Laurie Smith noted the board board had expressed its dislike of the schedule.

“I have not received any word from Army Corps that they are amending their schedule,” said Smith. “I’m always seeking solutions, but none appear in sight on this issue.”

The work involves repair and maintenance of jetties and wing walls of the Kennebunk River that sustained damage during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and consecutive nor’easter storms in March 2018, according to an overview by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Repair work will target loss of armor stone along both jetties, undermining of the east wing wall, and unbalanced settlement of the west wing wall. The project features provide protection for vessels entering and exiting the Kennebunk River.

Improvements to navigation at the Kennebunk River began in the 1790s when the first cribwork jetties at the river mouth were constructed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the overview states. The federal government took ownership of the jetties in 1798 and the US Army Corps of Engineers has repaired and improved them over the years.

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