, Gloucester, MA

February 21, 2013

Editorial: It's time for city to pull plug on Waterways Board

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — Working in the private-sector, Gloucester resident Tom Hovey says he had gotten used to making quick decisions and “getting immediate results.”

Now he’s made another one; after less than a year on Gloucester’s plodding Waterways Board, he’s already resigned, saying it’s not for him.

Member Phil Cusumano, meanwhile, advanced what he and many others thought to be an innovative plan to create a floating marina in the harbor that could greatly expand Gloucester’s transient or day-trippers’ moorings space, clearly one of the city’s greatest tourism needs. Yet he resigned last week as well, with the Waterways Board supposedly awaiting a feasibility study — for a project Cusumano launched in October 2011.

There are all sorts of adages about the wheels of justice turning slowly, and there are times that the wheels of government can turn even slower. But the action – or inaction – of this board has truly reached the point of no return. And it’s time to commit this embarrassing symbol of bureaucracy to Gloucester’s governmental history books.

The fact is, Gloucester desperately needs to explore ideas like Cusumano’s to add a significant number of moorings to welcome more visitors through its most impressive gateway — its harbor. It also needs to add harbor facilities — including the launch boat the board has just put out for bid after more than a year of talk — along with a viable shower and changing station for visitors. And it must, as Cusumano put it, find other means of making Gloucester a “friendly harbor” to boaters, Quite frankly, the Waterways Board has never come close to making that happen.

On one hand, yes, the board is bound by some constraints. For example, as a self-sustaining enterprise fund — one that funds its own projects and expenses with its own mooring fees and other revenue self-generated from outside the city’s budget — the board must not only field a project, get approval from the City Council, but then take it back, find a means of financing it, and then go through the entire process again. No wonder nothing gets done.

Yet all too often, we’ve heard grumbling from members and residents alike that this panel has been uniquely adept at finding new ways of not allowing, or not seeing something through because, well, at least some members didn’t want it to go through. And that’s especially been the case in recent years when it comes to expanding the number of moorings.

Perhaps the board’s greatest obstruction has come through its clinging to control of the little waterfront stretch of harborfront land at the foot of the city’s I-4, C-2 site — a prospect that no doubt raises all sorts of red flags among the kinds of I-4, C-2 bidders the city would love to entice to lease and develop the long-vacant property. In that sense, one can argue that this board is not only failing to grow and manage the number of moorings along the waterfront, but is subtly obstructing the harbor’s development opportunities as well.

Yes, the Waterways Board carries out a number of duties — but none of them can’t be transferred into other arms of city government, especially now that the city has a full-fledged harbor planning director in Sarah Garcia, with the structure of a department that could be expanded to include handling mooring fees.

In that same vein, there’s no reason that Jim Caulkett’s role as harbormaster shouldn’t operate under and report to either that office, or directly to the mayor — rather than to a self-contained Waterways Board as if the harbor was being managed like some little watery fiefdom.

The fact is, the city’s failure to significantly expand its moorings to welcome boaters and carry out other visitor-friendly projects has become an albatross around Gloucester’s economic development neck — and this board, for a variety of reasons, is at the heart of the inertia.

With Hovey, Cusumano and longtime member and ex-chairman Peter Bent all bowing out, it’s time to pull the plug on the board itself.

That would be a consolidation of city government long overdue.