Harbor management plan moving forward with analysis

Feb 2, 2018

More public access to the waterfront, better parking, open space and recreation, and solutions to sea level rise are just some of the changes that may be coming to the waters and land in and around Padanaram Harbor in the coming years.

Meeting on February 1, a committee tasked with creating a comprehensive management plan of Padanaram Harbor is moving forward with its next steps after analyzing the public's input on what to include in the plan. The public weighed in on the plan at a meeting of the Padanaram Harbor Management Plan Advisory Committee and through an online survey, both held in September.

The harbor management plan is being developed by the town and University of Massachusetts Boston-based Urban Harbors Institute. Through the plan, officials will identify issues and current and future needs of the harbor, and outline specific changes or improvements that should be implemented at local, state, and federal levels.

The online survey, which received about 260 responses, asked residents to rank each of 13 issues the plan will tackle in terms of importance. Water quality was the number one issue.

“A lot of people said [water quality] is very important, and probably the most important issue going on in the harbor,” said Kristin Uiterwyk from Urban Harbors Institute. “It supports all other uses.”

Respondents suggested ideas including partnering with the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth for water testing programs, general outreach and education, and stressed the importance of the Buttonwood Brook in potential water contamination.

Earlier in the process, the harbor management plan zeroed in on a specific area to study, bounded by Bakerville Road to the west, Russells Mills Road to the north, Elm Street and Middle Street to the east, and Rock O' Dundee road to the south.

Since water quality was identified as a top issue, the committee decided to adopt a separate study area to analyze the entire watershed which affects the harbor. The plan will now include the water quality of the watershed stretching as far north as Interstate 195.

In parking and transportation, those polled recommended making the harbor more pedestrian and bike-friendly, and issues relating to the Padanaram causeway and bridge like bridge opening schedules. Many respondents also stressed the need for balancing uses with natural resources, and the need for more open space.

In the online survey, historic and cultural resources were ranked as the least important of the topic areas, but officials are not sure if a lack of awareness could have played a role in that.

“I really think this comes from a lack of awareness of cultural and historic resources in the planning area,” Uiterwyk said. “Those who did not know of any ranked it low, but those that did ranked it high.”

The study area includes locations such as the Russell Garrison, and Padanaram is part of a national historic district.

To streamline management, the plan will also tackle cooperation and communication in harbor management - a key issue because there are 13 town boards and agencies with some role in harbor management presently, and more on the state and federal level.

Other topics include public access, recreational uses, commercial uses, fishing, shellfishing, and aquaculture, sea level rise, living marine resources, land use and open space, sedimentation patterns and dredging, historic and cultural issues, transportation, and emergency response.

Once complete, the full management plan will outline broad and specific steps to implement changes to better manage and improve the harbor. It will not specifically implement anything, however. That will be up to the relevant boards, officials, and possibly town meeting depending on the specific recommendations.

“We’re making sure there is broad awareness of what’s going on,” said the Urban Harbors Institute’s Steve Bliven. “This is not spending the town’s money. This is putting together a plan to do these things.”

The next step is to put together an inventory analysis of each of the 13 topics that will be a final component of the plan. It will pull together all existing information on each topic area to discover problems that could be improved. Members of the advisory committee will be working in smaller subcommittees to address each topic in the coming months.

To keep the public informed, officials invite anyone who wants more information about the project, or to offer input, to contact the Planning Department office at (508) 910-1816. Meetings are also open to the public. The most recent meeting was also televised and will air on DCTV.