Residents call for bridge closures

ALLEGRA BOVERMAN/Staff file photoTwo Rockport residents who say they have the backing of many Gloucester and Rockport residents are asking Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken to close the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge to out-of-state visitors.

With 37 cases of the novel coronavirus confirmed in Gloucester and one virus-related death in Rockport, some residents are calling for the closure of bridges to Cape Ann.

Ana Machado, co-owner of Rockin’ Cupcakes in Rockport, sent a letter to Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken on March 31 — on behalf of her herself, co-owner John Turner, and other Cape Ann residents — urging the mayor to close the bridges to anyone who is not a resident, emergency worker or delivering food and goods. 

These include the Blynman Bridge on Route 127 and A. Piatt Andrew Bridge on Route 128.

“Thereby reducing the chance that our small and close population stays safer and more ‘protected’ than the rest of our state and country,” they wrote. “While this may be an inconvenience to some, we think it is necessary in order to control the number of infections and continued spread of COVID-19 on our island.”

Neither Romeo Theken nor a representative from her office returned emails and phone calls from the Times, requesting comment, by the paper’s deadline Friday.

The bridges, for Machado, are only welcoming more cases of COVID-19 to their home. 

“We already had seven-plus infected residents and at least one death (in Rockport). Per capita, this is ALARMING,” she stressed in her letter. “If this pandemic continues to get even more out of control, being a step ahead will save the lives of our island residents.”

Machado outlined that for the past couple of weekends, police have tried to keep order in the Halibut Point State Park parking lot, as there seemed to be an inordinate number of visitors. 

“Visitors parked off the road, in the little parking inlets, at Lobster Pool parking lot and on side streets ...” she detailed in the letter. 

Those who parked, as explained by Machado, then had to walk along the side of the road, which created a risk for not only themselves, but also those driving the streets of Rockport. 

“How is this social distancing???? Most or all of these people did NOT appear to be island residents,” she wrote, noting that license plates were from Canada, New York and Vermont.

The bakery owner added that there has been an influx of visitors at Bearksin Neck as well, giving examples of places in their hometown that have become unsafe due to the crowds.

As she acknowledges there are people who work but do not live on the island, Machado suggests each business write a letter informing the city of their employees’ purpose of entering.

“Some people may think what we are suggesting is ridiculous... What this is doing is trying to keep our communities as safe as possible until this beast dies off,” Machado wrote to a Times reporter on Friday.

A follow-up letter was also sent to the mayor on April 1, saying the bridges should have been closed three weeks ago. 

“Why should we risk our lives and the lives of those at our small local hospital should things get out of control?!?!” Machado wrote, explaining that after talking to multiple other residents they were encouraged to resubmit their letter. 

Rockport’s Town Administrator Mitchell Vieira said town officials “continue to remind everyone visiting of social distancing requirements.”

This includes a signboard in Dock Square with a reminder message about the 6-foot social distancing protocol. 

Vieira explained that the town does not have jurisdiction over either of the bridges onto the island and referred a Times reporter to the city of Gloucester and the state’s Department of Transportation.

A representative from MassDOT referred the Times to Assistant Operations Engineer Mark Kratman, who did not return a call in time for publication.

While the ask is a big one, Gloucester and Rockport residents are not the only ones to be making such a significant request. 

Overwhelmed by the amount of out-of-state visitors in Cape Cod, year-round residents are petitioning for the shutdown of the Bourne and Sagamore bridges.

Beth Hickman started an online petition to close the bridges connecting Cape Cod to other parts of Massachusetts to prevent the spread of the virus.

“While we love our tourists and summer residents, this is not the time to come to the cape, our hospital can’t handle it,” Hickman explained in the petition.

As of Friday afternoon, the petition “Close the Cape Cod Bridges” had more than 12,600 signatures on Change.org

“Remember, the virus does not move, we move, if we stop moving the virus stops,” she emphasized.

While Cape Cod was able to get a petition going, Machado does not see Cape Ann residents having enough time to do to the same. 

“At this point we do not have time to have a petition go around,” she told a Times reporter Friday. “It is time to close access to those who do not live on the island as soon as possible so we can be a step ahead ... petitions and bureaucracies only delay actions — certainly now during this crisis.”

Staff writer Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or tbradford@gloucestertimes.com.

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