GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 25, 2013

State study backs Essex 'Riverwalk' project

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — ESSEX — Town officials first approached the state’s Seaport Advisory Council in 2010 to seek $155,000 for a boardwalk feasibility study.

Now, that study is in, and the by the Center for Economic Development and Sustainability at Salem State University indicates that the proposed Essex riverwalk or boardwalk is not only feasible, but would benefit Essex in a number of ways.

“...It is our professional opinion, that the proposed Riverwalk is feasible and would offer positive potential economic, cultural and historic impacts for Essex,” the report reads.

The report also notes the recent Route 133 improvements, historic and cultural capabilities, paired with the attractions of neighboring Gloucester and Ipswich, make Essex a good candidate for the project.

The report suggests dredging for at least 2,200 feet of the Essex River, with total project pegged at an estimated cost of $1,020,045.

In addition, the report notes that the river is mainly used for public or transient access, recreational docks, marinas and cruises, according to the report, though the number of clamming licenses has also fluctuated throughout the years, there were 106 licenses in 2009 and only 51 last year.

The positive economic impact could hit Gloucester and Ipswich, as well, the document states, as more docks and boat slips will directly impact immediate restaurants and stores in the area, in addition to marinas providing gasoline and maintenance services.

Robert Coviello of the Essex Merchants group said Wednesday that he’s glad the report recognizes that the town has a unique culture, history, location and beautiful scenery.

“All of those things have proven our credibility as a community that deserves this project,” Coviello said.

He added the town has worked hard to build up its cultural, economic and historic status, the town is not simply asking for a handout; a portion of the town was recognized last fall with the state Cultural Council’s designation of an Essex River Cultural District, one of four on Cape Ann but one of still just 15 across the state.

Edwin Howard, owner of Howard’s Flying Dragon Antiques on 136 Main St., said Wednesday he’s also in favor of the proposed riverwalk.

“The merchants, I’m sure, will be in favor of such an endeavor,” he said.

However, Howard also had some concerns about the project, he had technical questions about the dredging aspect.

“Dredging with the federal government is problematic, to say the least,” he said.

Ed Perkins of Perkins Marine Inc. on 82 Main St. said that he, too, was in favor of the project, even though the town would have to take an easement out to build a section of the riverwalk on his land.

“It’s only construction,” he said.

The report also cited examples on how the river project could spur an economic boost outside of summer tourism, as well as promoting the pursuit other historical and cultural designations.

Additionally, while similar projects in Salem and Newburyport are different in size and scope, they also had a direct, positive impact on local economies, the report states.

William Hamilton, a professor of geography at Salem State University and co-director of the Center for Economic Development and Stability, had told the Times previously that the Seaport Advisory Council has allocated millions to similar projects in other municipalities, including Gloucester’s HarborWalk, which opened last summer.

Coviello said that, since the Seaport Advisory Council funded the study, he believes the state panel would look favorably upon the report and fund the project.

Voters, meanwhile, will be poised with two warrant articles regarding the project during the Annual Town Meeting, set for May 6-7.

Article 31, if passed, would allow the town to take out easements on the Causeway to construct the river walk, as some of it would be on top of property owned by businesses.

Article 32 would allow the town to hire an engineering consultant to review structures in the Federal Channel of the Essex River and reconfigure the channel as well as allow the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the river.

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