GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 17, 2013

Update: Massport says mooring offer still on table

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an updated version of this story; Massport officials say they have not, in fact, rescinded the offer regarding mooring replacement.

MANCHESTER — Town officials here say the Massachusetts Port Authority has rescinded offers to replace existing block moorings with helix moorings in the town’s harbor and to install new moorings along Sand Dollar Bay.

But Massport media relations chief Matthew Brelis says that’s not the case — that the agency is willing to work with the town, but that Massport is concerned over divisions about the project as expressed by Manchester’s Harbor Advisory Committee.

Manchester Harbormaster Bion Pike said the talks to install helix moorings in the outermost part of the harbor, past the yacht club first began last fall.

Massport had offered to install the helix moorings after Boston’s Logan International Airport began construction of a runway addition on top of eelgrass in 2011, and the agency has since been required to offer an eelgrass mitigation plan, one on which it has spent some $500,000 to date across the state.

Pike said part of that plan is introducing helix moorings around coastal communities in the state, including Manchester. But some residents had questioned aspects of the plan as well.

Pike said the screw-like helix moorings are less harmful than the block and chain moorings in place now. The block of the mooring leaves a bigger footprint on the eelgrass and the chain also causes damage, he said.

Pike said eelgrass is an important environmental resource.

”Eelgrass is really the nursery for a lot of the small shellfish,” he said.

The town has about 65 to 70 moorings in throughout 50 acres of eelgrass, Pike said.

The second part of the proposal from Massport was to install new, transient one day moorings in the area of Sand Dollar Bay, off Gales Point. And James Hatch, who chairs the town’s Harbor Advisory Committee, said there were some concerns about this aspect of the project.

Hatch said the area has many different uses, from kayaking to water skiing, and while there were no specific locations for moorings given, developments in the area might have “inhibited traditional activities.” A designated no anchor zone would have also been put into place, if the moorings were installed, Hatch said.

In an April 11 letter to the Board of Selectmen, Ox Pasture Road resident Chuck Houghton also had concerns about Sand Dollar Bay moorings.

”We are writing you to let you know that we are strongly opposed to Massport’s offer to prevent access to Sand Dollar Bay and use it as a reclamation area for issues encountered in Boston Harbor,” he wrote.

Houghton said he fears that those who come to the bay to frequent local businesses will stop doing so.

”There is no better place for our children to explore and learn about the ocean than Sand Dollar Bay,” his letter reads. “Please don’t take this away from us.”

Pike said both of the mooring plans were offered together, but that they were rescinded by Massport because the transient, one-day moorings would not work for the town at this time.

Pike said he hopes the original offer, to install the helix moorings, will come up again.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.