GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

January 22, 2013

City eyes new state fund for seawall

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — The creation of a new state seawall and dam repair fund will keep Gloucester officials crossing their fingers in hopes that the city could rope in a chunk of the money for sorely-needed repairs to the Stacey Boulevard seawall surrounding the Blynman Bridge.

Gloucester officials have been eyeing a $5 million repair project for the Boulevard seawall, and Mayor Carolyn Kirk called the establishment of the state’s revolving $17 million Dam and Sea Wall Repair or Removal Fund “fantastic.” She said she will monitor the application process “very carefully,” and is already prepared to seek the funds.

“We have the permits in hand and the engineering designs ready to go,” Kirk said Monday, “and we’re hopeful that we can obtain some of the funding through this legislation and the appropriation because we are in terrible need of repairing our beautiful boulevard.”

Repairs to the seawall at the Blynman Canal has been on the city’s drawing boards for years.

The Blynman Bridge had to be shut down in 2007 for emergency repairs of an unstable east seawall and bridge tenders’ house. In recent years, the Department of Public Works has stacked boulders in three problematic areas of the wall to simply keep it in place. But the area has continued to worsen, with the waterside pavement near the Blynman Bridge roped off. Those steps came after the walkway fell into a slant, with the edging tipped downward, pulling apart sections of the steel railing.

The erosion causing this uneven ground is actually taking place, gradually, far beneath sea level. Almost a century ago, granite blocks were stacked into a seawall, with mud used as cement, and no footing, foundation or concrete core. Over the years, water rushed against the wall during storms. Day to day, the water rushed, too, disintegrating the mud, leaving gaps and holes, according to Department of Public Works Director Mike Hale.

Hale has said a team of engineer divers found major voids between the granite slaps, piled up long ago like Jenga game blocks, then loosened by water erosion.

The city is able to commit about half a million dollars to the cause, Hale said in December, leaving a funding gap of $4.5 million still needed for repairs. City officials, having tried other avenues, are now hoping the funding could stem from the newly created Dam and Sea Wall Repair or Removal Fund.

Senate Minority Leader and Coastal Caucus co-chair Bruce Tarr, R- Gloucester, and Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D- Gloucester, championed the legislation that created the $17 million state revolving loan fund.

“This legislation has been a major priority for the Coastal Caucus because of the dire need faced by so many communities for the construction and repair of costly seawalls that protect homes, safety and infrastructure,” Tarr said. “Now we have a new and substantial funding source to confront the serious problems that arise from dams and seawalls that need to be repaired.”

The fund will be split two ways each year, with half of the $17 million allocated to dam repairs and half to seawall infrastructure through loans and grants to local government bodies and charitable organizations. The Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs will administer the fund.

When first written, the legislation aimed solely to create aid for dam repairs, but a push by coastal community legislators, like Tarr and Ferrante, changed the legislation to include seawalls. The legislation also authorizes towns and cities to fund coastal infrastructure and dam repair and removal by issuing bonds.

“The passage of this bill is the result of bipartisan creativity to resolve a well-deserved cause,” Ferrante said. “We must preserve and maintain critical shoreside infrastructure to protect and preserve our communities.”

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