GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

May 11, 2013

DEP 'barrier' stirs hotel debate

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — The state’s Department of Environmental Protection has found that Gloucester’s Pavilion Beach was absolutely a barrier beach at one point, but has been “encapsulated” by the pavement and foundation of the parking lot and Birdseye building that Beauport Gloucester LLC. would tear down and replace to build a 101-room hotel on the site.

Because of that, the state agency wrote in a finding announced this week, the barrier beach is seen as “no longer functional” and “the performance (protection) standards for work in that area may be irrelevant if the landform no longer functions ...”

But residents who have been fighting the hotel project and are now looking not to block it, but have it scaled back, contest the DEP’s stand, which suggests the project could go forward without the need for barrier beach protections.

”All we asked in the end was simply for them to make modifications to protect our city,” Jimmy Tarantino, Port Community Alliance president said Friday. “It’s all about the protection of our community and bottom line that should come first.”

Tarantino and other Port Community Alliance members have suggested that a smaller hotel, set farther back, would allow dunes to flourish in the area, though Beauport’s engineer and environmental consultant counters that idea.

Tarantino said that based on information found in the three-part Godfrey report, written free of charge by Dr. Paul Godfrey, a UMass-Amherst emeritus professor of biology. In the report, Godfrey wrote about the danger he believes a seawall would present to the surrounding area.

Nathaniel Mulcahy, a Port Community Alliance Member and a scientist, said if the DEP were to decide not to allow buildings on the site, then he would embrace the “paradise” that would come in place of a parking lot and the dilapidated Birdseye building.

But really, he said, he prefers to see a compromise in the form of a smaller hotel, the modification that Lester Smith, Beauport Gloucester’s environmental engineer, called unnecessary.

“We’re willing to compromise for the benefit of the city,” Mulcahy said. “A downtown hotel is a good thing, we just want to do it right. It’s the city and Beauport that won’t compromrise.”

The DEP’s determination found that the beach was a functioning barrier beach between 1880 and the 1970s, but is now encapsulated under the parking lot and former Birdseye building, the targeted site for a 101-room hotel sought by New Balance owner Jim Davis and Cruiseport Gloucester’s Sheree DeLorenzo under the name of Beauport Gloucester LLC.

”It is MassDEP’s opinion that the site is on Barrier Beach and Coastal Dune that is encapsulated in asphalt and concrete to the point that it no longer functions as Coastal Dune,” a DEP environmental analyst and a section chief wrote in a letter dated April 2 and addressed to the lawyers who represent Mortillaro’s Lobster Co. and the Port Community Alliance in each groups’ appeals.

Those appeals center around a superseding order of resource area delineation, a document that functions only to outline the resources in the area for an order of conditions that the DEP will write later. That order of conditions what a builder must do to protect the resources.

Michael Faherty, the attorney representing Mortillaro’s Lobster Co., has filed a claim requesting an adjudicatory hearing, saying that the DEP essentially overstepped its charge, and that the agency wrongly included statements suggesting information about the functionality of the barrier beach and dunes, when the statement should simply outline the resources present.

”The Mortillaros request that the Superseding Order and accompanying letter be revised to remove all statements as to the current functional status of the resource areas delineated within,” Faherty wrote.

The DEP’s senior counsel, Rebecca Cutting, wrote in a pre-screening statement Wednesday that the disputed cover letter statement was not meant as a determination, but as an observation, and that she stands by the DEP’s measurements.

”... The ‘Barrier Beach’ which by definition contains ‘Coastal Dunes’ and ‘Coastal Beach’ is located under impervious surfaces in the area to be developed,” Cutting wrote. “Therefore, the performance standards for work in that area may be irrelevant if the landform no longer functions in service of the statutory interests. While these proffered insights are intended to be of assistance in understand DEP’s findings, they do not constitute findings in themselves.”

The DEP defines a barrier beach as a “narrow low-lying strip of land generally consisting of coastal beaches and coastal dunes extending roughly parallel to the trend of the coast.” Additionally, a barrier beach would be separated from the mainland by a narrow body of water — fresh, saline, brackish or marsh — but may be joined to the mainland on one or more sides.

Some critics of Beauport’s plan, meanwhile, have pointed to Beauport Engineer and Environmental Consultant Lester Smith’s past work, much of which refers to the dangers of seawalls in some areas. But Smith said his statements have been taken out of context.

”Folks have taken my previous recommendations out of context. You really need to look at the specifics of the situation,” Smith said Friday. “You have to look at each beach area and look at the tide and the wave dynamics of the area and then come up with what makes sense.”

Despite Godfrey’s concerns about the effects of the seawall, Smith said the seawall planned for the site would act in the same way as the wall of the Birdseye building, though it varies from the location and size of the Birdseye building. When asked about the possibility of changing the size or location of the proposed building, Smith said he sees no reason to do that.

“What we’re proposing meets the regulations,” Smith said. “What we’re proposing makes sense and I think that’s what we’ve been saying from day one. There is no need to do modifications.”

Though he has recommended dunes over seawalls at many locations, Smith said that seawalls “make sense” in more urban areas like Commercial Street, and allowing dunes to form would harm the roadway and other businesses in the area, as the sand would climb into a growing area.

“You’re going to have dunes washing into Commercial Street and that area,” Smith said. “In that area, it doesn’t make sense. It’s an urban environment. It makes sense to keep it that way.”

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.