Mitchell promises to fight for offshore wind in State of the City

newsletter-108-7In his State of the City address, Mayor Jon Mitchell painted a picture of a city that has made real progress and is on the verge of even greater success, especially when it comes to offshore wind development.
Mitchell pointed to several successes citywide Thursday afternoon at a packed field house at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School.
He spoke about receiving the green light for constructing the nation’s first specialized marine terminal for offshore wind energy, “halting a troubling decline in our public schools,” a more vibrant downtown, new public improvements project, less crime in the city, and a “top crop of managerial talent” hired at City Hall.
Mitchell also announced the state had certified $7.5 million in “free cash” for New Bedford, some of which he plans to spend on boosting education and economic development. Free cash is defined by the Department of Revenue as unused or remaining funds from municipal operations of the previous fiscal year.
Mitchell mentioned challenges ahead, including continued widespread unemployment, deteriorating neighborhoods and city finances that are tighter than ever. But New Bedford is uniquely positioned to be different from other struggling cities across the state, he said, pointing to its deepwater port, rich history, pleasant neighborhoods, reliable city services and relatively low cost of living.
“Every one of us has heard others say that New Bedford has “great potential.” And they’re right. The fundamental question before us is: Are we going to make the most of our potential?”
Mitchell said his administration is focused on creating jobs, being a reliable business partner and fostering transparency in government. He said he will continue to capitalize on attracting and growing businesses in the city, fighting for the fishing industry, promoting the waterfront and creating more activities to enliven it. But his main focus will continue to be the South Terminal project.
“Our biggest opportunities lie in offshore wind development,” he said. “New Bedford’s advantages, ranging from its industrial port to its proximity to ocean wind areas, offered the potential for an entirely new industry to take root and flourish here.”
In the last few months, Mitchell said the city has formed an advisory committee of industry leaders to guide its strategy; co-hosted a summit with Congressman Bill Keating that brought together several agency heads to find federal support; signed an agreement to lease land to the state at the terminal site; signed a cooperation agreement with the state; hired a leading consulting firm to assess opportunities in the wind energy supply chain and more.
“As much as we need and appreciate state and federal assistance, no one else will do these things for us,” he said. “A unified effort. A focus on the long term. A willingness to act. That is what will make the difference for us.”
Mitchell also announced several measures to bridge the city’s immediate financial needs.
With the $7.5 million in free cash, the mayor said he will allocate $2 million to bridge the school budget deficit; $700,000 to the police budget to replace half its cruisers; $125,000 to help create a wind energy center, as well as other initiatives worth half the free cash received, according to a letter sent to the City Council yesterday.
The underlying theme of Mitchell’s address was the importance of working collaboratively on a long-term vision to build a stronger future for New Bedford.
“We are at a crossroads as a community,” he said. “Arriving at that place means traveling down a harder road. It will demand more of us. The payoff will take time. It will demand more patience, as the reward for our efforts will not be immediate. Just as important, it requires unity, and a recognition that bickering over shortsighted concerns serves no purpose but to distract our focus from what really matters.”
Ward 5 Councilor Jane Gonsalves said she was excited to hear about the free cash allotment. “He obviously wants to collaborate, so that’s great,” she said after the address.
Development director at the YMCA Jim Mathes said Mitchell had a strong first year.
“I very much appreciate the effort on economic development, especially offshore wind, and the initiative of a cultural district in New Bedford,” he said.
A major commercial broker for the downtown district, Jeff Pontiff of E. J. Pontiff Real Estate said he remembers when half the buildings were boarded up and said he is positive about the direction the city is headed.
Bristol Community College President Jack Sbrega called the mayor’s address “uplifting and inspirational” and said he was pleased to hear about Mitchell’s commitment to education.
“He sets of a tone of optimism and is moving the city forward,” he said.
By Auditi Guha
March 22, 2013 12:00 AM
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