More than a postcard backdrop, the Cape's working waterfront is an economic engine. And it deserves continued financial support from the state, said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who is also the chairman of the state's Seaport Economic Council, which is making sizable investments in the shorefront infrastructure in Chatham and Harwich.
Polito visited Old Mill Boat Yard in Chatham and Saquatucket Harbor in Harwich Port last Thursday, getting a first-hand look at how Seaport Economic Council grants boost the so-called "blue economy" in the towns.
Starting her visit at Stage Harbor in Chatham, Polito toured the recently rehabilitated town landing at Old Mill Boat Yard, where boaters are making use of new float docks and a new concrete wash-down pad, along with a refurbished parking lot supported by a new bulkhead. Also included in the $1.5 million project were plumbing and utility improvements at the town's shellfish upweller, located below the harbormaster's office.
The Seaport Economic Council contributed $1.08 million toward the project, which was completed in April “on time and within budget,” Town Manager Jill Goldsmith told a harborside press conference. Stage Harbor, the town's primary deep-water harbor, is critical to fishermen, shellfishermen, recreational boaters and other mariners, and is “vital to our economic well-being as a town,” she said.
By executive order in 2015, the former Seaport Advisory Council became the Seaport Economic Council, stressing its role supporting the working waterfront.
“This is about the economy,” said State Rep. Sarah Peake, D–Provincetown. While the state-supported project is a boon to boaters, “when you boil it right down, it's about providing economic opportunities to the people of Chatham and beyond,” Peake said.
Polito thanked Peake for her leadership and congratulated the town for having a strong vision for its harbor infrastructure, “first, starting off with your plan for this harbor.” The blueprint from the town's South Coast Harbor Plan Committee was a key factor in the state's decision to support the grant application, she noted. In the very competitive race for grant funds, Chatham was also helped by the fact that local taxpayers provided additional support for the work, Polito noted.
The result is a project that can serve as a model for other communities, the lieutenant governor said. The council seeks to put more people to work by investing state tax money in waterfront projects, but it doesn't aim to dictate those projects.
“This is your vision,” she said. “This project didn't come from Beacon Hill.”
Polito's next stop was Saquatucket Harbor in Harwich Port, where voters have supported an ambitious, two-tiered rehabilitation of the marina. The Seaport Economic Council is contributing $1 million toward the $7 million first phase, which will replace aging pilings and floats in the harbor with modern, handicap-accessible floats and gangways.
Harbormaster John Rendon said that in addition to the many pleasure craft and commercial fishing boats at Saquatucket, there are a number of charter boats and ferries.
“A big part of this project is providing handicap accessibility for the passenger boats,” he said. The work on the water-side infrastructure has been delayed by a year because of problems obtaining the necessary permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, Town Administrator Christopher Clark told Polito.
Clark led Polito and her entourage out on the narrow, wobbly floats, which made an impression on the lieutenant governor. While Clark made a compelling case for the grant in his application, “to see it in person further demonstrates the need for us to assist,” she said.
While about 75 percent of the Saquatucket water-side phase will be funded using dock and landing permit revenues, the second phase – the $3 million renovation of buildings and other land-side infrastructure – is only eligible to use a small amount of permit revenues. For that reason, the town is seeking additional funds from the Seaport Economic Council and other grant sources, Clark said.
The land-side plan includes a cafe, a small colony of artists' shacks and a consolidated ticket office for the passenger boats. Polito said the council will review the grant application for the Saquatucket land-side project early next year. It, and other applications, will be judged largely on their ability to stimulate the economy.
“Obviously, jobs is one of the ways we measure that,” she said. The shore-side amenities “could serve as an incubator for small entrepreneurs,” Polito acknowledged.
Those economic benefits would be compounded if a sidewalk were installed to connect the harbor with downtown Harwich Port, Clark added. Selectman Julie Kavanagh said it might also be possible to run a shuttle between the harbor and the shopping district “to get people back and forth” to the waterfront. Rep. Peake agreed that such a mechanism is needed.
“It's important to think about safe ways for people to get around,” she said.