New Bedford takes another step with hurricane barrier

City crews could start work on a long-dreamed-of walkway on top of the hurricane barrier within six months, Mayor Jon Mitchell said Tuesday, the same day the state announced funding for the project.
Plans call for the path to stretch from Davy’s Locker on East Rodney French Boulevard up to Gifford Street and out into the harbor, allowing residents to surmount ó literally ó the giant barrier currently blocking views of the water.
“What this path will do is (give) residents of New Bedford and the broader region an opportunity to connect with the beautiful seascapes around our harbor in ways they haven’t for a half century,” Mitchell said.
The roughly 10-foot-wide path will be topped in bituminous paving and lined with street lamps and galvanized aluminum railings, key safety features that make up about half of the project’s total cost, Mitchell said.
Security cameras will help keep vandalism at bay and Mitchell said he does not think the rats known to inhabit the barrier’s nooks and crannies will scare-off would-be pedestrians.
“We’ll need to make sure to keep the place clean … but I think the rat problem is somewhat overstated,” he said.
The walkway, which will be handicapped accessible, provides opportunities for public art and perhaps one day a waterfront bike path that runs from South Dartmouth to Mattapoisett, Mitchell said.
A separate project to install a seasonal bridge onto Palmer’s Island, which sits adjacent to the barrier, is also in the works.
Advocates said the path will transform the dike into a recreational asset for the city and improve the area’s quality of life.
“It’s terrific for the city,” said former Mayor Scott Lang, who started the planning process for the walkway. “Anything that connects us to the water, anything that identifies us with the water, is extremely important to continue to build in the city.”
The Army Corps is still reviewing the portion of the path that extends to the hurricane gates and safety requirements attached to allowing bikes onto the path, Mitchell said. On the Fairhaven side of the barrier, a walkway already extends to the gates.
“Not all this stuff is set in stone,” Mitchell said, adding “Pardon the double entendre.”
Funding will come from a $352,800 Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grant announced Tuesday by the state’s Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The city has also budgeted $120,000 toward the project, Mitchell said.
“I think it’s long overdue,” said M.L. Baron, a local hurricane barrier historian and the operator of the West Island weather station in Fairhaven.
At-large Councilor Brian Gomes, who has also championed the walkway, said he was hoping for one final touch.
“I also hope that we would consider putting some flagpoles … that would fly flags from every culture this city is made up,” he said.
Original title: New Bedford takes another step with hurricane barrier
December 05, 2012 12:00 AM
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