, Newburyport, MA

February 22, 2013

Not much insight from public at NRA meetings

Sharon Scott

---- — I am writing as a concerned citizen and am not a member of any group, committee or organization. I have been reading a lot about the NRA, Committee for an Open Waterfront and the debate over our last open waterfront space.

I decided to see and hear things with my own eyes and ears, so on Jan. 16 I went to my first NRA meeting not knowing one person. I watched and listened and found it very interesting. They went through the routine formalities like mission statement and attendance and then conducted business such as bills, invoices paid and mail received. One letter opened was a letter from a lawyer that was looked at briefly and then was stated that the contents would be discussed at the next meeting. People who had signed up prior to the start of the meeting raised hands and asked questions and made comments and then shortly after, the meeting ended.

I then approached the committee and asked a question that led to a dialogue with a few members. When I asked about an open waterfront and what had happened to that idea (in the past the majority of the voters and the mayor were for it), I was asked, “Do you know how much that would cost to put in place and maintain?” I replied, “It would depend on how extravagant the design was” and on trying to give my opinion I was interrupted by a member before I could even finish my sentence. I asked if I could please finish, he kept on talking, and I again asked if I could please finish, whereas another member did say to the gentleman, “Let her finish.” I appreciated that. Now this was my very first experience at something like this, so when I read Tom Salemi’s letter to the editor, I had a hard time wrapping my head around him saying, “We invite the public to offer their insight.”

I went home after my first meeting and watched the proposal for the development of the waterfront and the plan for the park and decided I would go to the next meeting. The next meeting was Jan. 30 and I went to it thinking, “This will be interesting. They are going to read the letter from the lawyer.” The whole meeting was over in 20 minutes including mission statement, attendance and the reviewing of bills received and paid, and then it was adjourned. As a person new to this, I was rather stunned and said to myself, “It’s over? Nothing happened.”

Then I went to my third meeting, standing room only, and saw a very different thing going on. The appearance of being open and wanting to hear from the people. I had to wonder if it was because the mayor was there and she set the tone for being open and wanting input. So it is, at this stage of my learning experience, that I don’t like the plan that I am seeing for the development of our last open waterfront space and I feel like the last thing the waterfront and downtown need are more shops, restaurants and condos. I like the idea of bringing the waterfront to the city, not the city to the waterfront, as was said at the meeting the mayor attended. I like some of Dave Henwoods’ ideas about bringing marine activity and our rich history to the waterfront, and Jane Boyer’s examples of how a handful or less of people fought to create Central Park and Boston Common even though there were many who wanted to develop. They had a vision and fought to protect what open space those cities still had.

As far as calling this plan that is being proposed a compromise, I don’t think a plan that takes over four acres and uses a little more than one acre to add to the park a compromise. That is only 25 percent added and does not warrant the term compromise. In my opinion, Mayor Holaday and the NRA have a chance to do great things and leave a lasting legacy for future generations by saving our last open waterfront space and I am beseeching them to have the vision and foresight to do that.

I am also strongly encouraging all the people who are concerned about our waterfront and want to learn how the system operates to not wait for the next “open” meeting with the mayor but to take Mr. Salemi up on his offer to come to their regular scheduled meetings to offer our insights.


Sharon Scott lives in Newburyport.