By James Niedzinski
---- — ESSEX — Two state agencies are partnering to restore sections of salt marsh on the Castle Neck River in Essex, along the town’s boundary with Ipswich.
The effort is aimed at eliminating water that accumulates on the marsh, damaging plants and providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Last year, West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis, both mosquito-borne illnesses, hit dangerous threat levels in Hamilton, Wenham, Ipswich, Manchester, Essex and other communities.
The state Department of Ecological Restoration, a division of the state Department of Fish and Game, is teaming with the Northeast Mosquito Control District to remove sections of man-made walkways around the marsh.
Franz Ingelfinger, a state restoration ecologist, said the walkways, made of large rocks, were acting as a dam, preventing water flow.
“Basically, the rocks and old crossings act like a speed bump to drainage,” he said.
Plants within the marsh need aeration and can be damaged by backed-up water caused by the walkways, Ingelfinger said. When water accumulates on the marsh due to rainfall or high tides, it can sit there for up to five days.
Improving the water flow will allow fish to get up into the area to provide natural mosquito control, said Emily Sullivan, wetlands project coordinator with the Northeast Mosquito Control District. This is the first step in a long-term project, with two other areas of the river being restored, as well, she said.
The $20,000 cost of the project is being funded through a variety of sources, including a Corporate Wetland Restoration Partnership grant and other state grants.
Joe Ahearn, owner of Down River Ice Cream, which sits on the Castle Neck River, said the difference is already visible: Water levels in the nearby marsh have already gone down considerably. He added that it changed the scenery for the better.
“It’s been a really fun project to watch,” he wrote in an email. “... It’s really changed the view from our shop.”