, Gloucester, MA

March 11, 2013

Letter: Hotel project ignores danger to beach, seawall

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

On March 7, the Planning and Development Committee of City Council approved motions with some conditions that support the building of a 100-room, 61-foot tall hotel on Pavilion Beach.

In doing so, they choose to ignore the recent study by Dr. Paul Godfrey, Professor Emeritus in Biology from UMass Amherst, and someone long recognized as an expert in coastal barrier issues.

Pavilion Beach is now described by some as a “pocket” beach. At the founding of Gloucester centuries ago, this beach was much, much wider, broader, and flatter than now. Historical pictures make clear that this current scrunched beach is only that small because past decades of decisions have shrunk it to its current size. These are development errors that ought not to continue.

Dr. Godfrey’s analysis and report make clear that the past confining of the normal tidal flow in and out of Pavilion Beach has undermined it and indeed also the seawall along Stacy Boulevard. What is clear is that that beach should never have been confined as it was, not by the Birdseye Building, not by its seawall and not by the city’s seawall, and certainly not by a new building and even longer seawall.

While we may not have understood this coastal ecology when those past decisions were made, we do understand them now. And because we understand them now, we must take steps to prevent further damage to that section of beach and the city’s seawall.

The report makes clear that the continued development and confining of that coastal barrier will wreck further havoc on it, the area commonly called the boulevard, Commercial Street and the many successful businesses along it, and even perhaps areas of Harbor Cove should there be continued coastal changes, sea rise, and mega storms such as that of Hurricane Sandy/Nemo/Saturn. Beaches are being undermined and houses destroyed on Plum Island even as I write!

To prevent future destruction, the report recommends that the current seawall at the Birdseye (not the city’s seawall on Stacy Boulevard) and the Birdseye building itself be torn down and that the beach be allowed to re-stablish itself. Surely such a solution comes as a surprise to me, but it is very real and totally logical given our current understandings of storm surge and rising sea levels.

The applicant has tried to say that they had looked at the beach over 100 and that it had changed very little – saying this despite submitting pictures that clearly demonstrated how drastically the beach has been changed. Their conclusion, from a clearly false assumption, was that it would change very little in the next 100 years.

What I think most people recognize is that coastal barriers are at risk, all over the country, from rising coastal waters and ferocious storms.

I believe the City Council has the responsibility to undertake a study of what is likely to occur on that beach over the next one hundred years if the hotel and seawall were built. How could they consider such a structure without doing so given what we see is happening on built up beaches and in the face of the kind of storms we are enduring?

We, the City of Gloucester, are seeking funds to repair the Stacy Boulevard seawall, it having been undermined by tidal flow and storms for decades. There are many places where the damage is so severe that areas are roped off because they are not safe and/or sink holes are regularly appearing. Whatever the source of money to repair the seawall, which is desperately needed, we need to assure that other structures, if any, built along the beach do not undermine the current seawall or a repaired seawall.

If City Council and the public truly understand what is going on in this critical resource area, we all will recognize that the best action to preserve Pavilion Beach is to tear down the current seawall at the Birdseye site, demolish and remove the building, and allow the beach to re-establish itself over time as an effective coastal barrier.


Harvard Street. Gloucester