By Marjorie Nesin
---- — GLOUCESTER — With a quick look, any passer-by might notice the dilapidated edges of the Stacy Boulevard seawall.
Then, there is the waterside pavement near the Blynman Bridge, roped off after having fallen into a slant, the edging tipped downward, pulling apart sections of the steel railing.
But the erosion causing this uneven ground is actually taking place, gradually, far beneath sea level. Almost a century ago, granite blocks were stacked into a seawall, with mud used as cement, and no footing, foundation or concrete core. Over the years, water rushed against the wall during storms. Day to day, the water rushed, too, disintegrating the mud, leaving gaps and holes, according to Department of Public Works Director Mike Hale.
Hale said a team of engineer divers found major voids between the granite slaps, piled up long ago like Jenga game blocks, then loosened by water erosion.
“You can reach in 13 feet with a measuring staff (in some places) before you hit anything solid,” Hale said. “I don’t know if there’s any imminent danger, but there’s always a risk associated with any infrastructure and that risk grows as the infrastructure decays.”
Recognizing the crannies, cracks and crooked paths, as signs of decay, Hale said city officials have concluded the wall must be fixed. Still, even with all parties agreeing on the desperate cause, one issue arises: funding.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk at her State of the City address Monday night stressed that city officials are prepared to commence the project as soon as funding arrives, calling on the state to help out.
According to Hale, the city could toss in about a half million dollars in funding, just one tenth of the estimated $5 million it would cost to repair the wall, spanning from Stage Fort Park to the area just past the Blynman Bridge.
Gloucester has all of the state and local permits in place, and the city is hopefully awaiting state financial assistance.
But with no designated state pot from which to draw on, Gloucester has applied for a Seaport Improvement Grant from Gov. Deval Patrick’s Seaport Advisory Council, an application which is pending. The Seaport Advisory Council will meet this spring and could grant the money at that time.
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr in September wrote a letter of support for the Gloucester project, addressed to the state’s executive secretary and director of development. Tarr said he is also pushing legislation that would create a state fund for aiding dam and seawall repairs.
“It’s a need all up and down the state,” Tarr said, “and thus far, the state has no real way to deal with this need.”
Once the project becomes funded, if everything runs on track, city officials would hope to see construction begin by this time next year.
Ideally, if the funding comes through, the city could finish the Stacy Boulevard seawall in just a couple of years, then move on to repair the Lanes Cove seawall, breached by Hurricane Irene in 2011, which blew a hole into the wall.
In recent years, public works has stacked boulders in three problematic areas of the wall, to simply keep the wall in place. Still, Hale said these piles, not created under his direction, do “nothing more but keep the wall in place.”
Then, in 2004, a portion of the wall within the canal collapsed and was rebuilt with a concrete core and granite blocks along the face.
Until then, public works officials continue to inspect the Boulevard after each storm, and they have erected an orange fence at the entrance of the Stage Fort Park walking path, where some top granite pieces fell to gravity and now rest against a pile of boulders at odd angles.
The plastic orange fence blocks off a gap between grass and granite through which one can see the destructive water below.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.