New Bedford Waterfront Safety Improved Through Federal and State Grants

Low-tech, High-tech Tools to Boost Safety on Working Waterfront
By Joe Cohen, Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — The administration of Mayor Scott W. Lang is making a major push to improve public safety on the working waterfront, installing equipment as simple as life rings and ladders and as complex as sophisticated new cameras that will provide blanket surveillance 24 hours a day.
Federal and state grants are being used wherever available, said Kristin Decas, port director and executive director of the Harbor Development Commission. When completed later this year, the various projects along the waterfront, much of which is owned by the city, could total about $2.5 million, Ms. Decas said. Most of that money will come from the federal and state governments.
The improvements come several months after a January incident in which two commercial fishermen went into frigid harbor waters in the early-morning hours while trying to board a boat tied to a dock in the North Terminal. Both men had been drinking. One is believed to have fallen in and the other is believed to have jumped in to rescue him. Neither survived. A third fisherman used a cell phone to call for emergency help.
Simple measures such as life rings and more accessible ladders attached to docks could make a difference, Ms. Decas said.
“We are doing a lot. Mayor Lang and the Harbor Development Commission recognize the importance of public safety being the top priority,” Ms. Decas said.
The two fatalities were not the only incident in recent months in which commercial fishermen went into harbor waters. Three other fishermen have fallen into the water near docks in recent months, and all made it to safety, Ms. Decas said.
Ms. Decas said the HDC recently put up 37 life rings around the harbor extending from the North to the South terminals. She said the installation was done according to OSHA guidelines.
She said the entire project cost just under $5,000 because HDC employees did the work, and the life rings were purchased at cost from IMP fishing gear, a local supplier headed by John Readon.
“This is a low-cost effort that could have significant benefits for the port and fishermen,” Ms. Decas said. She called it “short money that can have a real impact on saving a life.”
As for the possibility the life rings could be stolen, Ms. Decas said, the HDC has set a $500 fine for such an offense, something she called “a rotten thing to do to steal something that can save somebody’s life.”
Another related project is the installation of new ladders on the side of docks providing access to boats or from the water to the docks.
She said that project and related work will cost $150,000 and should be completed by the end of June. She said the ladders — designed to withstand salt water and rough weather — cost $8,000 to $12,000 a ladder and require an outside contractor to do the installation. This project also is being done to Occupational Safety and Health Administration specifications, she said.
Ms. Decas said another relatively low-tech project is fixing lights along all the docks and wharves, as well as installing new lighting where needed. This project also is relatively low-cost because it is being coordinated with the city Department of Public Works.
Ms. Decas said she has received word of a $948,000 port security grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That will be used to create a port security system that will include cameras providing full coverage on docks. Ms. Decas said the system will be integrated with law enforcement agencies including local police.
Other public safety-related improvements include:
* A new patrol boat for the Police Department harbor patrol unit.
* Improvements to two other boats used by authorities in the harbor.
* A fire boat being given to the city by the Boston Fire Department as surplus equipment that will be refurbished and placed in service with the city Fire Department.
* Underwater surveillance equipment that will be put into use to inspect ferries and other vessels using the port.
* An identification card program for workers on the docks to improve security in areas such as State Pier.
Ms. Decas said that as the No. 1 fishing port in the United States, with more than 500 commercial fishing vessels as well as ferries, cruise ships, freighters and other boats to deal with, public safety is an important issue.
“As a result of grants including state and federal support and strong management of our funds and commitments from private industry, we have made some significant strides in public safety,” Ms. Decas said. “We are heading in the right direction — we hope to continue to do these types of things to support our maritime industries.”
Contact Joe Cohen at
May 27, 2008
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