Today, federal, state and local elected officials representing Gloucester will come together to celebrate the Annisquam River dredging project, which is finally moving forward.
This might not seem like the biggest news of the week: The Patriots lost their first game since December 2018; we just had local elections; Washington is debating impeachment... And the Army Corps of Engineers will soon be moving mud in the Annisquam River.
But to move the mud, we had to move mountains in Washington, D.C., and on Beacon Hill.
Today we are going to celebrate the final step in a process years in the making. And while Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, state Sen. Bruce Tarr, Gov. Charlie Baker and I will get the credit today, the true heroes in this story are the members of our teams that worked behind the scenes for years to pull this off.
This story started the moment portions of the Annisquam, last dredged in 1963, started to become impassable. If the river wasn’t cleared, emergency vessels, commercial lobstermen, fishermen, and recreational boaters wouldn’t be able to pass through.
Our community’s safety and economy were on the line. For example, if the river,doesn’t get dredged, a boater in one of New England’s busiest waterways could have a heart attack or any other emergency during low tide, and the Coast Guard and harbormaster would be unable to reach them by boat until high tide.
The problem was complicated. As the river wound its way through the years, shores changed beyond federal boundaries and, to make a long story short, we literally had to change federal policy to allow dredging to move forward. So, Gloucester native Morgan Bell, a longtime member of my team, worked tirelessly to raise the Annisquam dredging project onto the Army Corps of Engineers’ Project Worksheet, which is the list of major dredge project priorities in the Army Corps’ annual budget. This required building bipartisan support at a historically divisive time. With the help of Senator Markey and Senator Warren’s team, we got it done.
Next, we needed the money. The Army Corps of Engineers allocated nearly $6 million in federal funding, which it estimated was the full cost of dredging. Of the Corps’ entire $50 million budget for the fiscal year, the nearly $6 million the Annisquam project received was among the single-largest amounts of funding the Army Corps allocated nationwide for a small maintenance dredging project. Once awarded to the city of Gloucester, there were celebratory headlines in this newspaper. We felt a sense of relief.
Then the project went out to bid. And the bids came back. But they were twice as high as what the Army Corps originally estimated. Worst of all, we learned that because of arcane government rules that don’t allow adding funds to make up the difference, the entire project was likely dead in the water.
It was clear that the federal government wasn’t going to get this across the finish line alone. We needed champions at the state and local level, and we found them in Mayor Theken, Senator Tarr, and Representative Ferrante and their teams. Working with Governor Baker and several members of the Baker-Polito administration, they secured the $2 million needed to start work. Morgan and her successor, Kelly Bovio, carried on negotiating behind the scenes.
But, like final the inevitable plot twist in a movie that’s 20 minutes too long, even that wasn’t quite enough to make this project a reality. In order to accept state money, we needed approval from a long line of federal decision makers: Army Corps’ Headquarters in Washington, DC, the Assistant Secretary of the Army, the Office of Management and Budget and, finally, Congress.
So Kelly and I made the case to the district commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, Col. William Conde, that this project was too important to the citizens of Gloucester to delay any further. He listened and connected us with the team in Washington that had the authority to move it forward. What was supposed to be a 12- to 18-month delay was cut to a month, and we anticipate dredging will, finally, start before winter.
That’s why today is important: we’re celebrating the start of this critical project. But also because, in a country where the political system is so broken and where people are starting to lose faith in the idea that their government works for them, wins like this one secured by people who never get the credit — public servants who work for next to nothing, people who grew up here like Morgan and Kelly, and who show up to work and fight every day to make our communities better — they are the real heroes of the day and part of the antidote to our broken politics.
Governor Baker and Senator Tarr are Republicans. Mayor Theken is an independent. Representative Ferrante and I are Democrats. I know all of us are proud to work for the people of Gloucester. And when it seems like nothing’s going right in our politics and everyone is slinging mud at the expense of the people they represent, this simple win, which will lead to the good kind of mud slinging that dredges a channel, is absolutely something to celebrate. My great thanks to our incredible teams who made it all happen.
Seth Moulton of Salem is the congressman for the 6th District of Massachusetts.