GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Opinion

March 12, 2013

Letter: Council should heed coastal expert's warnings

To the editor:

This is an open letter to our city councilors:

The current debate regarding the seawall at the former Birdseye location reminds me of the debate regarding the traffic lights proposed for the Downtown Crossing development. If you recall, there was a great deal of insistence that the project could not be implemented without installing traffic lights on Route 128. Opponents to the lights were called obstructionists.

The debate over the seawall as proposed by Beauport Gloucester LLC, like the debate over the traffic lights, has to do with the impact of an obstruction on a fluid system. Most of us could easily imagine the impact of traffic lights on our highway.

However, few of us can understand the impact of a geographical barrier on a coastline. It’s just too complicated to imagine. Gosh, many of us Cape Anners can’t even figure out how to keep our basements dry, even with engineering help and foolproof waterproof systems. We aren’t much better figuring out sewer systems. The forces of water, wind and gravity are not to be defied. We can only try to work with them.

Despite the hyperbole, the decision before the Council is not a black or white decision upon which rests the fate of the hotel. It is simply a decision whether or not the seawall as proposed should be built. Dr. Paul Godfrey, an expert in the field, suggests it would lead to a cascading series of destructions to beach and personal property.

The environmental engineer hired by Beauport predictably argues it won’t. This isn’t about picking sides. This isn’t even about what use of the property will be better for the city. This is an argument about the forces of nature on various coastline topographies. One thing we should all realize, with humility, is that man’s best engineering often falls short, whether its on the scale of our wet basements, the Lanesville sewer system or the Mississippi delta.

I suggest that the City Council takes Dr. Godfrey’s warning seriously. Although the lot isn’t destined to become sand dunes, demand alternatives to the seawall as proposed. Let’s build something that experts in coastline barriers can predict is not destined to destroy both beach and property.

We might just find a solution.

KAREN FAVAZZA SPENCER

Langsford Street, Gloucester

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