Around the end of October a simple glance at the Lead Mills Conservation Area from  Lafayette Street would have shown that the narrow chip-covered pedestrian trail crossing the length of the area had become a fifteen-foot wide muddy road. A short trek from this entry point to Harbor Glade just off the former rail bed revealed that the path to the harbor shoreline had become a bed of rocks not fit for walking. These dramatic changes, unfortunately, were necessary for the access of heavy equipment. Trucks, excavators, and front end loaders had to reach the shore for a badly needed rework of the slope at the harbors edge along the rail bed. What happened?

An early March storm passing through Marblehead brought high winds along with precipitation, arriving at a time of unusually high tide. Trees were downed and sea walls were damaged in Marblehead Harbor and at Grace Oliver beach. It wasn’t until late April, however, that a survey of conservation areas found that the Salem Harbor shoreline bordering Lead Mills, an embankment of the rail bed, had also been extensively damaged. Trees and shrubs that had been planted along the water-facing slope during the 2010 – 2011 area remediation had been washed free of the earth. Much of the original slope was simply gone. The top of the slope even now is barely six feet from the rail bed, threatening a deeper washout if another such storm arrives.

To protect the shoreline slope from further erosion with normal tides and storms, a barrier of large stones has been created from the foot of the slope several feet upwards along most heavily damaged area. A layer of sand, just above the new barrier of stones, remains a concern. This layer, more than a foot thick, was exposed when the rest of the slope washed away. If that layer had extended down the original slope, it may well have contributed to the collapse. At this time, the rock barrier gives protection to the slope. We must wait to see if another untimely storm will cause further removal of the remaining sand layer and collapse of the earth above.

The need to bring in and position a large volume of stones for the new barrier resulted in damage to the neighboring conservation areas. Heavy equipment can be hard on any surface, and repair is necessary to restore access for walkers. The Conservancy submitted recommendations for remediation to the Town Engineer and by early November, a plan for the conservation areas was underway. Loam now covers the path from the rail bed to the harbor shoreline. The trails across Lead Mills out to Lafayette Street will be smoothed. Re-seeding is in the plan, weather permitting, but it is likely that the plan will extend into next spring.

Thanks to the Municipal Light Department for supporting the shoreline repair, to Charles Quigley, Town Engineer and Conservation Agent, for initiating remediation on the conservation lands and to Andrew Petty, Director of Public Health, for his assistance in obtaining material and equipment for that remediation.