Harbor funding sparks outcry

Trustees urged to reconsider New Bedford proposals
By Charis Anderson

NEW BEDFORD — One by one, they stepped to the microphone Tuesday night at a New Bedford Harbor Trustee Council public hearing — elected officials, average citizens, residents, non-residents — to express what they saw as a fundamental unfairness.

How, many speakers wondered, could the trustee council, in this fourth and final round of funding, have passed over all three of the city’s applications in favor of projects far from the epicenter of the pollution that so damaged New Bedford Harbor?

“I am affronted, and I am outraged,” said Edward J. Ilsley, a city resident and a member of the Harbor Development Commission. “The money that you’re spending is because someone else came into the city of New Bedford and defecated.”

The hearing was held as part of the public comment period on the preliminary funding decisions that the New Bedford Harbor Trustee Council released earlier this month.

The trustee council recommended funding four projects — the restoration of a marsh in Round Hill, the acquisition of land in Acushnet, the rehabilitation of the former Acushnet Sawmill property, and the restoration of the tern habitat on three islands — with a total of $5.5 million.

The city’s three applications, including a proposal to restore about 1.5 miles of upper harbor coastline including a pedestrian walkway, were rejected with the explanation that they received low scores in the merit ranking.

“I believe that the proposals by New Bedford had a tremendous amount of merit,” said Mayor Scott W. Lang.

“They enhance the quality of life for all of the individuals of this city. … I believe that they are tremendous economic drivers for this city, which has been stunted as a result of the PCB contamination.”

The remaining trustee council funding should be spent on projects where the original harm took place, said Lang.
“We need you to do what’s right, appropriate,” he said. “We ask you: reconsider our proposals.”

Lang’s plea for the council to reverse its preliminary funding decisions and to award funding to the city’s proposals was repeated, over and over, by other elected officials, city residents and non-residents alike.

“With few exceptions, people in the region — particularly those in New Bedford — have been treated like second-class citizens,” said Steve Sharek, a Dartmouth resident and former New Bedford city councilor.

“I know that you might be able to justify, on slim, purely scientific grounds, spending millions of dollars in areas not directly hurt by PCB pollution in New Bedford Harbor. I know you might be able to do that. I urge you not to try.”

Matthew Morrissey, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council, criticized the process by which the trustee council arrived at its preliminary decisions as completely lacking in transparency.

“This process has lacked the kind of transparency. the kind of openness, that is critical to allow people a sense of confidence in government,” he said. “The kind of frustration you’re hearing is as much about the process as it is about the preliminary decisions.”

According to Morrissey, while the two Acushnet projects would enhance the city’s proposed riverwalk, there is simply not enough money to do them all.

“I do not believe that it is appropriate in any way to sacrifice the area of greatest injury and greatest environmental damage,” he said.

Mark Rasmussen, president of the Coalition for Buzzards Bay, which proposed the Acushnet projects, argued, however, that those projects and the riverwalk could be completed if all the remaining trust funds were directed to them.

The Acushnet Sawmill property “is right in the city’s backyard,” he said. “What if we can open this ecological treasure, this uncontaminated, non-toxic piece of the Acushnet River … and restore it to the people of the city of New Bedford?”

Michael O’Reilly, environmental affairs coordinator in Dartmouth, spoke on behalf of the Round Hill marsh restoration project.
“It completely reconstructs a marsh that has been lost for decades,” he said. “I submit that this is a unique opportunity not to be missed and the benefits of this project will be realized by all the communities affected.”

November 24, 2010

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OUR VIEW: Still time to do right by harbor
New Bedford Standard-Times Editorial

New Bedford could not have spoken more persuasively or eloquently about how decades of industrial pollution deprived its citizens of the use and enjoyment of one of the finest harbors on the East Coast.

One by one, political leaders and regular citizens made the case last week before the New Bedford Harbor Trustee Council that its preliminary decision to deny the city any of the more than $6 million remaining in a trust to address the damage done by industrial pollution was adding injury to insult.

“I’ve watched this region systematically plundered” by the captains of industry and political leaders who put profits before all other consideration, said Steven Sharek, Dartmouth town moderator.

And the restoration efforts paid for with three previous Harbor Trustee Council rounds of grant money have not given the three communities that actually share the harbor their fair share. Indeed, New Bedford, which shares the harbor with Fairhaven and Acushnet, has received only about one-fourth of all the dollars awarded by the council. It is not due to get anything under the council’s preliminary ruling on this fourth and final round of grants.

If the council fails to change its ruling, New Bedford Mayor Scott W. Lang said the city will sue.

He would be well within his rights to do so, but it should not come to that. There is room here for the council to do the right thing by the city and by the harbor.

Doing the right thing means the council will have to reject projects that would help restore island habitat for the common and roseate tern populations on Bird Island in Marion and Ram Island off Mattapoisett and forgo the restoration of a salt marsh in Dartmouth. They are worthy enough projects, but also outside the direct impact of PCB contamination in New Bedford Harbor. Further, they are likely to find other sources of money than the projects proposed in New Bedford, Acushnet and Fairhaven.

What makes the most sense is for the council to award the entire grant to projects in those communities. That might be a bitter pill for those on the council representing agencies that actually submitted favored proposals, but Lang and other critics who decried that too-cozy relationship as an unacceptable conflict are correct.

The New Bedford projects that would create a walkway along the harbor and provide access to a sanctuary on Palmer’s Island, along with the Acushnet Sawmill and LaPalme Riverside Farm acquisition, all immediately border the harbor and would greatly benefit the citizens of the communities sharing that harbor.

Significant costs can be saved from the initial funding requests, making it more than possible for all those projects to be finished or nearly so. The New Bedford Harbor Trustee Council will accept written comments about the plan until Dec. 10, and we urge citizens to send their comments to Jack Terrill, New Bedford Harbor Trustee Council, c/o National Marine Fisheries Service, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. Citizens can also e-mail their comments to Jack.Terrill@noaa.gov.

For government to have credibility with citizens, it must convince those citizens that it has their best interests at heart. This is an opportunity for members of the Harbor Trustee Council to restore a measure of faith in its mission by doing right by those who have been the true victims of the harbor’s despoiling.
November 28, 2010

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