By Beth David, Editor
Citing the economic development potential of a deepened New Bedford/ Fairhaven Harbor, the Fairhaven Selectboard on Monday, 4/24, voted to send a letter of support for navigational dredging to the state.
The push is to get funding for about $20 million in funding needed to deepen the harbor, which will allow for larger boats and ships to use the port.
Several local businesses, including Fairhaven Shipyard, Linberg Marine, Atlantic Shellfish, Seaport Inn, and the Steamship Authority, have sent letters of support for the project.
New Bedford mayor Jon Mitchell wrote a letter to Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Chair of the Seaport Economic Council, outlining the funding needed for phases of the project, and asking for SEC funds.
Selectboard members noted the information in the mayor’s letter, including that the Port of New Bedford contributes 2% of the state’s gross state product, generating $9 billion in direct and indirect economic activity. The waterfront employes more than 6,200 workers “with a healthy average salary of $57,000,” reads the mayor’s letter.
The information cited by the mayor comes from a September 2016 study by Martin Associates on the economic impact of the New Bedford/ Fairhaven Harbor. The study also examined the economic impact that navigational dredging would have.
Mr. Mitchell also noted the discrepancy in funding to Boston Harbor. New Bedford has not been dredged for 60 years, except for certain projects, said Mr. Mitchell in his letter.
“This historic lack of attention paid to dredging in New Bedford is not only troubling, but it reflects an unfortunate inequity when contrasted with the major effort underway by Massport to dredge in Boston Harbor,” wrote the mayor, adding that $65 million has been earmarked for Boston’s dredging program, while New Bedford has $35 million promised to it.
The Port of Boston employs 7,200.
Mr. Mitchell noted that “freighters have been forced to idle for hours…waiting for tide changes” in New Bedford. Other ships have been unable to enter the harbor at all.
According to a study by Martin Associates, the navigational dredging proposed would create 900 new jobs, $260 million in increased economic activity, and $12 million more in state and local tax revenue.
All three board members voiced support for the dredging and voted to draft a letter similar to New Bedford’s to send to the Seaport Economic Council.
The dredge material would be placed in a Confined Aquatic Disposal (CAD) Cell, so not all residents are thrilled about the idea.
Karen Vilandry, a Fairhaven resident and president of the Hands Across the River Coalition (HARC), an environmental organization, voiced her oft-ignored warnings about the dangers of burying the material.
CAD cells are big holes under the water that are filled with the contaminated material and capped with clean fill. New Bedford Harbor is the largest superfund site in the country, with all sediment contaminated by PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) at varying levels. The PCBs are from factories that operated on the shores of New Bedford decades ago. PCBs are a known carcinogen.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently dredging in the harbor to clean up PCBs and placing the material in CAD cells, with at least one close to the Fairhaven shore.
Ms. Vilandry told the board that the EPA is not cleaning up the harbor, it is just moving the contaminated sediment around. She said the navigational dredging does more of the same, with the same risks.
She said, before it is buried, the contaminated sediment sits on a barge and dries out, sending PCBs into the air.
“Fairhaven had nothing to do with the contamination,” said Ms. Vilandry. “But we are bearing the brunt of it.”
She said property values will suffer if yet another CAD cell is placed near Fairhaven homes.
“This is the only place in the country where they’re doing this,” said Ms. Vilandry, noting that at other sites, the PCBs have been removed, not buried.
“So, this is not good for us,” she said.
Selectboard Chairperson Bob Espindola, sought to make a distinction between the navigational dredging and the EPA dredging. He noted a letter from Edward Anthes-Washburn, New Bedford Port Director.
Mr. Anthes-Washburn said the dredging material from the proposed navigational dredging “is orders of magnitude cleaner than the EPA superfund material.”
He also noted that the dredging will help Fairhaven businesses, too, not just New Bedford’s.
His letter also noted that the material is not being removed by the EPA, so if it is not dredged and placed in the CAD by navigational dredging, it will “stay where it is now, accessible to all the critters and fish that eventually make [their] way up the food chain to humans. The EPA and others have shown that consumption of fish with PCBs causes the greatest threat to people.”
Mr. Espindola noted those points made in the letter, but Ms. Vilandry noted that the whole harbor is a superfund site. It does not matter who is doing the dredging.
Selectboard member Daniel Freitas said he would like to know how the EPA will be involved in the navigational dredging. Although the will not be performing it, the point of the whole harbor being a superfund site makes it seem likely they should be involved in some way.
“It’s the elephant in the room,” said Mr. Freitas.
He said he understood the positive points about economic development, but would like more information on the health ramifications of the dredging.
Selectboard member Charles Murphy agreed, saying he would also like to know what the health concerns would be and how the EPA is responding to that.
The board voted to draft two letters, one to the state supporting the navigational dredging, and one to the EPA to ask about their role in the dredging and health concerns.
For more information on the New Bedford/Fairhaven Harbor cleanup, visit https://www.epa.gov/new-bedford-harbor. To download a copy of the Martin Associates report, visit http://www.portofnewbedford.org/New%20Bedford%20Economic%20Impact%20Assessment%20September%202016.pdf •••
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