, Gloucester, MA

May 13, 2013

Editorial: Current, not former beach status should guide hotel project

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — That was then, this is now.

That overly simplistic summary nonetheless seems to express the state Department of Environmental Protection’s findings regarding Pavilion Beach, and the fact that it likely does not qualify for added barrier beach development protection. And the DEP should use that same logic if and when it issues conditions for development of the Beauport Gloucester LLC hotel project so that it and the related Commercial Street and Fort neighborhood infrastructure can go forward, providing the jobs and other economic boosts that this project promises to deliver.

The findings of the DEP — outlined in an April 2 letter to attorneys and the Port Community Alliance citizens’ group, then largely reiterated last week in documents submitted to DEP appeals administrators — show that Pavilion Beach was a barrier beach, even though it is clearly well-sheltered by Gloucester’s Outer Harbor. But they key word is “was” — not is.

In effect, the DEP recognizes that the beach off the old Birdseye property, the targeted site of the new hotel, has been so “encapsulated” by pavement for the past 40 years or more that “the land form has lost its coastal dune characteristics and functions.” And that the “performance standards for work in the area may be irrelevant” under the Wetlands Protection Act or other environmental mandates that could preclude or regulate building on a barrier beach today.

There are, to be honest, some questions to be answered here. Those include one raised by Gloucester attorney Michael Faherty, who, in representing Mortillaro’s Lobster Company across from the Birdseye site, claims that the DEP is overstepping its bounds by suggesting how the dunes and land mass functions — not simply determining whether the beach qualifies as a barrier.

But another legitimate question is why none of these objections have been raised over the last four decades or more, including years when the Birdseye plant itself was still functioning, but when perhaps something could have been done to preserve the “barrier beach.” And despite the report by UMass-Amherst professor emeritus Paul Godfrey, who cited Pavilion’s barrier beach characteristics and the need to restore eelgrass in the outer harbor, no one has raised these concerns until the issue loomed as a means of stopping a project that the neighbors don’t want.

Is anyone calling for changes to Mac Bell’s Chamber of Commerce building, or adjacent houses at the end of Beach Court? For removal of The Tavern? Is anyone crying out for removal of the new Greasy Pole Dock to restore eelgrass off the beach?

Off course not — and they shouldn’t. The fact is, any determination and any DEP conditions regarding the Beauport Gloucester hotel project must be based on status and condition of the land as it is now — not on what it might have been 40 years ago or more. That was then, this is now, and this project is important to Gloucester’s future.