Gloucester may well be financially “sound,” as Mayor Carolyn Kirk noted during her State of the City presentation in City Hall’s Kyrouz Auditorium earlier this week.
But city officials had better be prepared to dip a little deeper into Gloucester’s stabilization cash, and our state lawmakers had better step up the pressure to help address a more and more unstable part of the city’s historic waterfront — the aging and damaged seawall at Stacy Boulevard and around toward Stage Fort Park. For while state Sen. Bruce Tarr is right to push for a new state financial pot to address the needs of cracking seawalls and dams across the state, the fact is the condition of Gloucester’s seawall needs attention now.
Some of the basic dangers to the Stacy Boulevard seawall are apparent even to the naked eye, with any passersby able to note the separating sections of the metal railing and the increasingly sinking sidewalk that has made part of the walkway off limits to Boulevard pedestrians.
What those passersby cannot easily see – or may not appreciate — is the damage to the wall beneath sea level, where city Public Works Director Mike Hale notes that crews can reach as much as 13 feet into gaps in the infrastructure. And water rushing into the wall has also disintegrated much of the mud used between granite slabs back in the day, leaving even larger gaps and holes in the overall construction.
Gloucester officials, who struck out earlier this fall on a $5 million MassWorks grant for Fort water and sewer infrastructure improvements, have rightfully applied for a Seaport Improvement Grant from the Seaport Advisory Council to aid with seawall repair. And Tarr, as Senate Minority Leader, wrote a letter of support for the Gloucester project in September, while also pushing legislation that would create a state fund for aiding dam and seawall repairs.
But even if the project — also projected to cost up to $5 million — lands the needed state funding, city leaders are not projecting that construction would begin until perhaps this time next year. With another busy tourism season, countless Blynman Bridge openings and closings, and, yes, a few severe storms expected before that, this is one project that would seem to deserve a higher priority. The slowly collapsing seawall and the endangered Boulevard walkways now only loom as true public safety hazards, but ominous city liability hazards as well.
The city and state alike need to give this project the urgent priority it deserves.
That means setting aside the money to at least carry out repairs to the seawall’s most immediate needs.