Critics see city in 'rush' to new harbor plan

Gloucester Daily Times (MA), 2014-07-09


July 09 --The city's Harbor Plan Committee could vote tonight on the draft of the city's 2014 municipal harbor plan and DPA master plan, but at least two waterfront activists would like the board to delay any vote, in order to allow more public comment and expanded consideration of the proposed plan.

Activists Valerie Nelson and Patti Page said they would like to see the public comment period extended at least two weeks to provide more time for the city's citizens to consider the changes from the 2009 harbor plan and the likely impact of the new plan on the waterfront and community.

"There should be no headlong rush to finish the review and comment period at the end of an 18-month review process, when so much complex material is presented in this document that has not been seen before in any process, particularly when the Commonwealth is not operating under any deadline," Nelson wrote to the committee in a June 30 letter.

Nelson also said that portions of the plan "were not presented at the city's prior two public briefings and Q&A sessions, nor discussed in Harbor Plan Committee meetings."

On Tuesday, Nelson and Page also criticized the review process for the scarce provision of details on the city's official website, including the lack of up-to-date minutes and incomplete appendices and other material that they say have hampered the public's ability to digest and understand a very complex document.

"This document is a thicket," Nelson said. "It's nearly impenetrable."

The most recent minutes posted on the city's official website are from the committee's Aug. 14, 2013 , meeting.

Committee chairman Rick Noonan could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

City Harbor Planner Sarah Garcia rebutted the criticisms from Nelson and Page regarding the process and the substance of the plan.

"It's been a balanced and methodical process," Garcia said Tuesday. "Each piece of the plan is built on the piece before it. I really think we've given property owners clarity."

Garcia also stressed that the draft amends the 2009 harbor plan by including "an economic strategy and regulatory framework."

Ultimately, the Harbor Plan Committee will vote on the plan, and Garcia will forward it to the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs for approval, which is expected to take another four months.

The city reviews its harbor plan every five years to develop a current use plan for its historic mixed-use harbor in the face of persistent economic and regulatory changes, such as the ongoing groundfish disaster and the reconstitution of the Designated Port Authority . The city has hired Rhode Island -based Ningret Partners as a consultant in the writing of the new plan.

The process is a complex endeavor requiring the collection of massive amounts of data designed to reflect physical changes along the waterfront, shifting employment and development trends, the rise of potential new uses, the influence of natural forces of flooding and storm surge, and boundary modifications such as the recent state ruling to reconfigure the city's DPA by taking out all but two Smith Cove properties.

Page said the quinquennial revisions of the city harbor plan should be extended to every 10 years to provide a longer-range view for waterfront usage that would attract increased levels of investment and allow the plans the necessary time to attain their goals.

"The goal should be stability, and the longer time period between reviews gives you that," Page said.

The two activists also submitted recommendations for changing the draft plan.

Nelson said the primary focus of the plan should include "an economic development strategy of investment in marine industrial development, including the fishing industry in particular" and the reduction or removal of regulatory flexibility provisions "that would open the door further for non-marine industrial development in what remains of the DPA."

Nelson said the 2014 draft plan threatens the prosperity and survival of traditional fishing-related waterfront uses by "providing extraordinary leeway for property owners to engage in non-marine industrial and incompatible development that has the capacity over time to undermine completely the viability of the working port."

She takes to task local, state and federal governments for largely abandoning their "responsibilities in the harbor to provide what numerous plans have called for over the years," including public infrastructure investments, public research and development capacity, product development, training and technical assistance, and other economic development programs.

She also criticized the city and the state for targeting non-marine industrial uses for waterfront projects at the expense of the city's traditional marine industries, including millions in state grants for playgrounds, the Harborwalk, cultural districts, Stacy Boulevard work and "hotel-related water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, and roads and boulevard repairs."

In her comments, Page recommends retaining the 50 percent supporting use in the marine industrial zone and the removal of the provision that would allow the expansion of uses within the marine industrial zone to include accessories to water-dependent industrial uses.

She also endorses the idea of a Community Boating Center to afford more access to the ocean "at minimal expense" through boat sharing and youth programs.

Like Nelson, she urges the inclusion of a provision for investment in satellite hybrid wastewater pretreatment systems with the infrastructure improvements already being installed on Commercial Street .

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com . Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT and check out his blog, Glosta Daily , on gloucestertimes.com .

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