, Newburyport, MA

January 26, 2013

NRA excluding non-Newburyport residents from discussion

Elizabeth G. Heath

---- — At the meeting of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority held on Dec. 12, NRA acting chairman John Morris, when introducing the “public comment” portion of the meeting, stated that “people from Newburyport will be given preference.”

This xenophobic attitude is consistent with many of the NRA’s previous actions and comments, a large number of which seem intentionally designed to denigrate and dismiss any and all non-Newburyport residents.

For instance, during the NRA meeting on June 16, 2012 that was held at the Firehouse and which consisted primarily of a presentation by Union Studios, at least two well-known residents of Newbury, who were sitting in full view of the moderator, were completely ignored during the subsequent question and answer period. These good and caring civic-minded folks were purposefully not called upon despite having had their hands raised for the entire time.

At regular NRA meetings, attendees from out of town frequently must contend with having sarcastic comments hurled at them by the NRA chair as they attempt to ask questions and/or request clarification during the public comment time.

The NRA clearly needs some education. Consider the facts:

At least one of the people whom the NRA continues to rudely defame and dismiss, a resident of Newbury and a member of the Committee for an Open Waterfront, owns rental property in Newburyport. By definition, then, this person is a Newburyport business owner. The NRA considers local business owners to be “stakeholders” in the waterfront development and thus by maligning and ignoring the concerns of this particular individual, they are acting illogically — at best. Unethically — for sure.

Several of the out-of-town personae non grata were members of the original COW back in the late 1980s; indeed, there is a long history of Newbury residents fighting to keep Newburyport’s waterfront free of development. They constitute a large portion of the reason why the riverside remains open to this very day — of why there is currently no hotel on the NRA-owned central waterfront. They are owed thanks, not disdain.

The above facts could be viewed as anecdotal, but the indisputable crux of the issue is as follows. The “Declaration of Public Trust,” establishing the Newburyport Waterfront Trust (whose lands are adjacent to and surround the NRA’s property), signed on Jan. 28, 1991, reads: “The purpose of this Trust shall be to hold, manage, maintain ... conserve and utilize the ‘public trust lands’ as natural resources for use and enjoyment by the public in perpetuity, for the benefit of the residents of the City of Newburyport, West Newbury and Newbury in particular, and of the general public, with free access of the public to and from the ‘public trust lands’ forever.”

Note the sign on the boardwalk in Newburyport that reads: “The Old Waterfront: Somerby’s Landing - Laid out in 1752 by the Town of Newbury as a public way to and from the waterfront.”

Almost unbelievably, Newburyport’s open, public central waterfront, which appears to be but one single unified tract of land, is legally separated into several segments, not all of which are contiguous. The NRA owns some segments; the NWT owns the others. The NRA apparently believes that their parcels are for the use of Newburyporters only; the NWT acknowledges that their parcels are there for the benefit of all. Must the non-residents play hopscotch among the land areas so as not to trespass where they are not welcome?

And, last but not least, the NRA lands are legally classified as “Commonwealth Tidelands” and as such must remain accessible to all residents, not just to those from Newburyport. And therefore everybody should have the right to have a say in their eventual disposition. Including those troublesome folks from Newbury.

So it would it would behoove the NRA to treat everyone respectfully. The waterfront, which at its essence is a historical site of national import, belongs to us all. I insist that the NRA listen to us. To all of us.


Elizabeth G. Heath of Newburyport is chair of the Committee for an Open Waterfront.