Monday night’s public hearing on the proposed revisions to the Gloucester’s Harbor Plan featured some of the same critics and criticisms of the substance of the plan and the process the city used to arrive at the current draft.
Waterfront activists Patti Page and Valerie Nelson, as expected, skewered the plan for providing too much regulatory leeway to lend any real protection or spur any legitimate investment in the city’s floundering commercial fishing industry. They also criticized what they termed an exclusionary process that barred any real public input into the plan.
“You’re violating federal law when you only sit down with city officials,” Nelson told the staff members from the state’s Coastal Zone Management office running the hearing. “There is a fundamental schizophrenia in this harbor plan, where the regulatory provisions do not support the achievement of its goals.”
The ranks of the plan’s critics also grew in a meaningful way when two organizations — one of which already wields quite a bit of clout and another that appears poised to become a major waterfront influence — raised objections to some elements in the plan.
In a letter from its President Angela Sanfilippo, the venerable Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association criticized the plan for weakening the Designated Port Area requirements and potentially promoting commercial uses — such as hotels, shopping centers and recreational marinas — that would be incompatible to the survival and potential rebirth of the city’s commercial fishing industry.
“The city’s current proposal includes an unjustified reduction in waterfront industrial acreage, removal of supporting use requirements in the uplands, and a much expanded set of allowable accessory uses,” Sanfilippo wrote. “We oppose these changes.”
The letter went on to say the organization “supports the current balance of mixed-use harbor” and urged the state to invest strategically in the port of Gloucester as a means of supporting the fishing industry and the working waterfront.
The newly formed Gloucester Harbor Community Development Corp., incorporated last year to help promote the resurgence of the fishing industry and the marine industrial base along the city’s waterfront through public-private partnerships, recommended “a six-month extension of this public hearing to allow for a more considered analysis of the Harbor Plan in its entirety.”
The GHCDC lauded the Harbor Plan Committee for the plan’s recommendations to encourage infrastructure repair and the development of wastewater pretreatment systems for marine industrial businesses along the waterfront.
It also said it welcomes the plan’s recommendations “to create the mechanisms that will allow the unused dockage along Rogers Street at Americold, Gorton’s and Mass Electric to ultimately be added to the inventory of dockage available in Gloucester” for commercial and water-dependent industrial uses.
“This is surely a complex issue to tackle, but indeed does need to be addressed,” the letter from GHCDC Executive Director Richard Hersey stated.
The GHCDC took issue with other elements of the plan, particularly calling for the removal of the recommendation to allow new uses in the uplands area that lies between the Chapter 91 jurisdiction at the historic high-water mark and the current edge of the DPA.
“Given the decision to eliminate roughly half of the DPA while this Harbor Plan was being developed, GHCDC is concerned that recent addition of language regarding removing ‘uplands’ from the DPA could lead to attempts to circumvent the intent of the plan,” Hersey wrote in the letter read at the public hearing by GHCDC clerk Sunny Robinson.
Hersey said the uplands recommendation should have been mapped out more clearly and presented to harbor property owners before it was included as a formal proposal within the plan.
“This has not taken place and its implications in detail are not clear,” Hersey wrote. “This proposal ought to be removed from the Harbor Plan and not go forward at this time.”
The deadline for written comment on the proposed Harbor Plan is Oct. 10, and the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs is expected to make a decision on accepting or rejecting the plan sometime in December.