To the editor:
For over 100 years, my family has worked on the Gloucester Harbor waterfront.
First was my great grandfather, followed by my grandfather – Leo – as well as my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and now generations of our children. Hundreds of Gloucester residents have worked these jobs.
My father, Michael, has worked on this waterfront for over 70 years. During that time, he created, built, and managed an array of companies in fish processing, wholesaling lobsters, animal feed, fueling services, whale watching and a restaurant. His involvement in the harborfront also includes an attempt at an offshore fish farm as well as a downtown hotel, all in the hope that it would make life better for both our family and for our community.
However rich my family’s history on the waterfront may be, however, the time for change has come.
The fishing industry, as we once knew it, has been and will forever remain changed. Conservation, the government, environmental concerns, and even the community have all contributed to these changes.
Yet with these changes comes opportunity, and now is the time to assess our options and prepare for what lies ahead. For years, the debate over Fish vs. Recreational and Residential vs. Industrial use of our waterfront has left us entangled. New government fishing regulations, attracting new businesses to waterfront properties that are in disrepair and in need of millions of dollars of work is extremely difficult, if not impossible.
Sites that are too small for medium or large developments, those that would offer the most jobs to and the most tax revenue for the city compound this difficulty. For existing businesses, the DPA designation by the state has placed an undue burden on property owners by restricting uses and intentionally devaluing their properties, making many businesses illegal or simply unprofitable. And the community’s failure to address pretreatment of industrial wastewater has led to much higher operating costs for existing businesses currently unable to process large volumes of water.
This leaves Gloucester severely disadvantaged, economically speaking, and many of these issues are snowballing as industry leaders fail to promote or to lobby for fishing technologies that are environmentally sound and sustainable.
I am pleased to say that, for the past year, a very active, diverse, and concerned group of individuals which I am a member of have met to strategize on how to approach these problems. The product of our meetings has been the formation of the Gloucester Harbor Community Development Corporation (GHCDC).
We maintain that it is the private sector of the economy that needs to be represented and given an equal seat at the table. We are the ones that have put our own investments at risk every day in hope of a return on those investments.
Our goals are to secure funding for low-interest rate loans for waterfront repair and maintenance, to promote pretreatment as an option for some expansion of fish processing (if it’s not too late already), to promote new fish technologies like fish traps, to encourage new opportunities such as animal food and niche products, to encourage the city to simplify permitting for waterfront property repairs or maintenance, and to encourage the state to take an active financial interest in preserving its asset for future opportunities while allowing present owners and businesses to operate at a competitive level.
Local government has spent millions on dockage, public walkways, parks, and on community sewer and water infrastructure — none of which directly affects our city’s tax revenue. And with over 55 percent of the land on Cape Ann not contributing to its tax base, discussing the possibility of research and nonprofits on the waterfront must be done with the understanding that these institutions cannot — or will not — by nature, pay the taxes currently necessary for the community to grow and to expand.
We have created GHCDC as a link and as a solution: a link between the private and public sectors so that we may work together to promote new techniques and industry solutions that will hopefully generate financial well-being.
A healthier waterfront means that we, as a community, can continue to be diverse, competitive, and ready for the next new opportunity, while improving our livelihood, our schools, and our jobs. A healthier waterfront means that more families like mine can continue in, or start anew, Gloucester’s rich waterfront tradition.
We are calling on city, state, and waterfront property owners, business owners, and fishermen, all of those who contribute to the economic engine that drives this sputtering waterfront economy.
We, as the GHCDC, believe we can help with the immediate tasks at hand.
CEO/President, The Gloucester House