By Steven Fletcher
The city of Gloucester is among those signing onto a new Ports of Massachusetts Compact announced Monday by the governor's office, becoming part of an agreement between the state and its five major ports looking to boost economic development and improve port infrastructure.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who attended Monday's ceremony announcing the new strategy, says the agreement has potential to bring jobs to and improve the city's working waterfront.
Kirk, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, New Bedford Mayor Jonathan Mitchell, Fall River Mayor William Flanagan, Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll and several state officials signed the compact in New Bedford. The compact, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray said, will look at opportunities for improved economic development in the port cities as well as improved transportation and trade infrastructure.
Creating the compact, Murray said, ensures strategic planning across the ports to benefit the commonwealth.
Murray will be chairman of the compact, which brings together the Massachusetts Port Authority, Seaport Advisory Council, state departments and what the state calls its five major ports.
The compact is centered on transportation, with the state expecting a growth in shipping due to the widening of the Panama Canal, according to a state Department of Transportation report titled "Moving Massachusetts Seaports Forward." But it also focuses on other areas of maritime industrial development.
Opportunities for job creation and infrastructure repair along the working waterfront, said Kirk, make the compact viable for Gloucester.
Down the road, she said, the compact will provide dedicated funding sources to invest in infrastructure and job creation on the working waterfront.
"That's kind of the bottom line as I see it," said Kirk, "job creation and infrastructure investment."
She said that she'd like to see the bond bill for the compact allow state money to be used to redevelop infrastructure on private property — something that's not easy to do with Seaport Advisory Council dollars. Much of Gloucester's waterfront, save a handful of parcels, is privately owned. Most of New Bedford's and Boston's waterfronts are publicly owned, and both cities have made significant use of Seaport Advisory Council bond funding.
"I think it's striking," said Valerie Nelson, a former city councilor and local activist. "We have history of being a great fishing port, and we haven't been assertively going after the building blocks to get the infrastructure."
Nelson said the compact opens the door for the city to attract diverse marine industry to the waterfront.
But, before anything happens, the compact, officials said, will assess port infrastructure across the state and form a strategic plan within a year.
That effort will be led by the state's Department of Transportation.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.