, Gloucester, MA

May 20, 2013

Editorial: City can't blame lawsuit for delay on Fort project

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — Mayor Carolyn Kirk is right to promise that the city will defend its Conservation Commission from a lawsuit filed by the owners of the Mortillaro Lobster Company challenging the commission’s green lights given for construction of the planned Beauport Gloucester hotel on the site of the former Birdseye plant.

But while standing by the commission’s approvals allowing the project to go forward, it’s at least equally important that the city ensure it has its own house in order to proceed with the badly needed Fort neighborhood water and sewer infrastructure project that should serve not only the new 101-room hotel, but other businesses and residences in and around the Fort as well.

For while Kirk and other officials are trying to blame the filing of the lawsuit, or other anticipated appeals for delaying the work, Mortillaro attorney Michael Faherty makes a valid point when he suggests that his and the Mortillaros’ lawsuit has “nothing to do with the infrastructure project.”

The suit may tangentially cloud the ability for the city to show the state that its $3 million MassWorks grant will bring in the jobs that the hotel will offer. But it’s also clear that the city, on its own, is not prepared at this point to have the infrastructure project “shovel ready” by June 21 – or by the end of spring — as the grant also stipulates. And while the Mortillaros’ lawsuit is being funneled – quickly, we hope — through the courts, it’s crucial for the city to speed clearance of its own infrastructure project through the needed conservation approvals that are still pending, and right now facing an August hearing, a mere two months after the close of spring.

The lawsuit itself argues that the city’s Conservation Commission essentially ignored statutory requirements to protect the environment, including the status of Pavilion as a “coastal beach/dune resource area.” And, given the Department of Environmental Protection’s finding that Pavilion no longer qualifies as a barrier beach, that should get a court dismissal.

But beyond the courts, city officials must hold their end of this vital project and ensure that the i’s are dotted on the infrastructure work that’s critical to the new hotel. Right now, that’s not the case — and that must be fixed in a hurry.