Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Gloucester Daily Times “Letters to the Editor” February 1,2012
Unedited Version as originally submitted follows:


First and foremost, Gloucester’s deep water commercial harbor is its crown jewel. Our harbor is a recognized prime commercial waterway on the eastern seaboard. For years activists and preservers of the “working waterfront” have advocated for our blue collar fishermen and the preservation of Gloucester’s quintessential commercial harbor.

In the mid ‘60s, urban renewal devastated our working waterfront. Until recently, every public administration and economic development body have refused to recognize and address this major economic deficiency in our commercial tax-paying community.

To that end, we have rebuffed the commercial residential development of the paint factory by several private developers opting for a non-profit marine-related whaling research organization. This property, after decades, now half its original size, is the potential emblematic harbor front door to our city. Currently, this inactive property is a visual reminder of unproductive grandiose dreams, seeking some form of public funding. While the periphery of our stagnant harbor continues to remain blighted and punctuated with undeveloped properties, this floating marina proposal, however well intentioned, is destined to compound our working waterfront felonies of the past.

The one asset we have miraculously retained over centuries is our undisturbed natural deep water waterway, especially the inner harbor itself. Until now! If the Waterways Board and the “fast track” Gloucester Daily Times, have their way, the very lifeblood of our community will be jeopardized by diminishing the only area showing new growth in a promising dynamic commercial working waterfront.
Our expanding new cruiseport facility, with its ocean-going tug and its continuing effort to attract medium-sized cruise vessels, is not enhanced by the introduction of a sprawling recreational mooring field at the narrow entrance to their North Channel waterfront location. Introducing a 450’ x 40’ (football field +) small boat obstacle, right smack in the middle of a deep water channel intersection leading into the far reaches of our harbor’s north and south channels, is a BAD proposal.

This narrow North Channel has a long history of near misses, collisions and sinkings. It can be argued that this floating marina is set back from the working channels, out of harm’s way; it is not. At high water this area is a frequent short-cut for medium sized vessels crossing the harbor. As I write this piece, a modern-day, state of the art cruise ship, has run aground on a well-chartered ledge through negligence and inattention.

A commercial harbor with year-round 24/7 daily activity is no place to install a series of permanently anchored recreational floats! Think about this proposed 450’ long, 18,000 sq. ft., proposed “breakwater”, with 30 small vessels tied up at night, unaware owners and crews sleeping, about to be run down by a huge loaded herring trawler with an out-of-control engine! This whole floating breakwater, sitting dead center in our harbor, would be wiped out, similar to the recent cruise liner accident. The point is, anything can happen in an overcrowded active commercial waterway.

Suppose a sudden sou’west gale sweeps down the harbor as these small yachts hang precariously onto surging floats? Even our 110’ Coast Guard cutter, from the same harbor area, always seeks calmer waters and refuge at the end of the fish pier in the North Channel or on the pier’s south side Cripple Cove end. This practice started in 1940 and continues to the present day!

Let’s face it, we can’t have it both ways: an active working harbor with a pleasure boat facility in the middle cannot co-exist “safely”. It is a stretch to promote this concept in a busy commercial harbor. The Waterways Board is asking for trouble! A tendered facility would be ideally operated by yacht clubs in mainly yachting oriented communities, i.e., Marblehead and Manchester-by-the-Sea.

No matter how It is promoted as an economic panacea to the downtown merchants, at best, it is a three-month expensive “questionable” source of revenue, dependent on the weather. The harsh reality is, it will be a 12-month, indisputable inner harbor navigational distraction and hazard… accident waiting to happen.
All successful marinas operate from the land for the following reasons:

• Derive their income by providing multiple services on site
• Supply on site parking for their boat owners
• Provide maintenance and repair services
• Rent mooring dockage and upland storage space, seasonally and year round
• Locate out of the way, usually conveniently accessible to a main waterway

I am always in favor of meaningful waterfront development. This floating marina plan is a dangerous solution to circumvent the Designated Port Authority (D.P.A. zoning) restrictions. D.P.A. zoning is effectively killing our waterfront economic advancement. This is all about outmoded zoning in a transitioning working harbor. Our city fathers and state political representatives should move heaven and earth to get out from under this bondage, once and for all!

Consider the following:
1. City does not belong in the marina business.
2. Marina dollar investment cannot be recouped.
3. Marine legal liability exposure is SCARY!
4. Marine liability insurance (absolutely necessary and required) is expensive.
5. Three months (transient only) operating revenue is a financial loser.

Consider the following less dangerous harbor locations:

1. Behind Ten Pound Island
2. Inside Eastern Point Breakwater adjacent to E.P. Yacht Club
3. In front of Niles Beach
4. Off Half Moon Beach
5. A few visitor floats at Freshwater Cove area or mouth of Little River.

This floating marina proposal is a pricey infrastructure investment. This major city government undertaking demands thorough research from all departments, especially the legal department! Proceed with caution!

Ron Gilson

1 comment:

  1. Excellent piece Ron! I'm learning a lot. It was nice meeting you today. - Rich