NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 31, 2012

Taking stock of 2012

Waterfront, preservation at forefront in Port

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — NEWBURYPORT — Perhaps every year provides momentous municipal events and riveting political action when put under the lens of reflection, but ... it does appear that in 2012, there was a lot going on here.

Issues were debated, elections held, municipal projects completed and plans for the future finalized. Thousands of residents were caught up in the movement of community action.

In the briefest of shorthand, news coverage focused on developments including the LHD, NRA, Storey Avenue, clearwell, treatment plant, south jetty, beach scraping, solarizing, new parks and successful referendums on two schools and a senior community center.

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One issue debated for the entire year was a proposed ordinance to create a Local Historic District,

“This issue is dividing our community,” said City Councilor Dick Sullivan Jr. — and others.

A study committee spent five years developing an ordinance its creators thought would preserve historic structures. Numerous public meetings demonstrated the community was sharply divided on the issue.

Two weeks ago, the City Council passed the first reading of a much-reduced LHD, consisting of just five structures (eight residences). The council in January will continue discussion on a measure focused on the downtown business district and a much-discussed demolition delay. More ardent debate is expected.

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The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority was also in the news in 2012, as the five-member board moved forward with plans to develop 4.2 acres it owns on the riverfront.

Much of its acreage now is used as parking lots, and members say they want to expand the area for more park and greenery.

In order to pay for the creation and maintenance of the park, the NRA commissioned an outline from Union Studio of Providence, R.I., to provide a concept of what the park could look like.

The NRA will be seeking requests for proposals from developers in the coming months, but some residents are opposed to the commercial buildings that are proposed as part of the plan, which could include shops, restaurants and 30 to 35 condominium units.

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A proposed development on Storey Avenue, near the intersection of Low Street, also fostered community debate. Private developers proposed tearing down several houses on Storey Avenue and replacing them with a CVS pharmacy and perhaps a bank branch.

After numerous public sessions, the City Council voted down the proposed development, though some City Hall veterans say the issue can re-emerge in an altered form.

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If residents were divided over those issues, the body politic came together to approve two school projects and a senior community center at a cost of several million dollars.

With voters’ backing, the city plans to construct a new Bresnahan School, provide major improvements to the Nock/Molin complex and build a community facility on the grounds of the old Bresnahan.

One selling point for the school projects was the fact that state funds would pay for close to half of the costs for the Bresnahan and Nock/Molin construction.

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In the year 2012, several major infrastructure projects were completed and/or advanced in the past year:

City officials orchestrated the construction of a new clearwell (municipal water source) and pumping station on Spring Lane. This $18 million facility replaced the crumbling waterworks that had lasted for almost eight decades.

A major overhaul of the wastewater treatment plant on Water Street also progressed. The $32 million project is more than half finished now and is part of a municipal initiative to bring treated water up to state and federal standards.

A “passive” park opened at 70 Water St., a site that years ago had been contaminated. Municipal leaders also worked with state officials to upgrade bollards and introduce bright flowers on a strip of riverside parkland near the Joppa Slip.

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A $3.6 million, federally funded project to fortify the south jetty of the Merrimack River began earlier this month. The intent of the work is to minimize erosion on Plum Island.

Erosion stimulated homeowners in Newbury to seek permission to “scrape” (aggregate) sand in front of their residences to hold back high tides. Engineers from the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers gave permission for such action to be taken near the Annapolis Way section of Newbury. But last week, several homes there came under seige during a surprise nor’easter and emergency efforts to stem the erosion along Plum Island are once again under way.

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Summer is always a memorable period here, and in August, Newburyport was named a Coast Guard City. This initiative was headed by Mayor Donna Holaday, in conjunction with flag officers of the maritime service. One goal of the effort was to raise the city’s visibility as a center of history — and promote tourism.

In the summer of 2012, the weather was warm and sunny. Waterfront veterans say it was one of the best boating and fishing seasons in many years.

One special treat for ocean lovers was the July visit of the HMS Bounty, a tall ship that hosted several thousand visitors for educational tours.

In one of the most heartbreaking events of autumn, the replica ship sank with the loss of its captain during Superstorm Sandy.

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On election day in 2012, one local political race energized many residents: the bid of City Councilor Kathleen O’Connor Ives for state Senate.

Running as a Democrat, she defeated a half-dozen rivals and will assume her seat on Beacon Hill on Wednesday. The City Council is currently reviewing applicants to replace her.

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City voters also approved the concept of medical marijuana here, and officials have begun reviewing the statute to determine whether a dispensary would be appropriate for this community.