, Newburyport, MA

April 17, 2013

The fight will continue for an open waterfront

James Charles Roy

---- — I offer the following points regarding a recent letter by Tom Salemi of the NRA.

First, despite what specific numbers might suggest, the general trend of all the data is pretty clear. At the very least, half of Newburyport’s population is on record as opposing substantial development on the waterfront. The other half is splintered, a sizeable number of whom could care less. That is not a reckless assertion. I am not surprised by Tom’s claim that local business owners slightly favor development over non-development. It may even be true. What would you expect from people whose primary objective in life is profit?

Second, the NRA has consistently inflated the expense of developing parkland. James Shanley’s assertion at their last “public” meeting that it would entail a seven-figure price tag is ludicrous.

Third, the claim that the NRA is doing us a favor by adding an acre of further park by extending the berm is dwarfed — I repeat, dwarfed — by the proposed new construction. I agree with a comment made by a member of the audience at the last NRA meeting I attended to put up aluminum poles and drape them with fabric around the footprint of the proposed new buildings to their exact dimensions, height included, so Newburyporters can get an idea as to their actual effect on the waterfront. Let’s hire the ghost of Christo to do that, and see what the reaction is.

Four, stop complaining about “decade-old data” on what people think. Do another survey or put a referendum on the ballot so we can get an up-to-the-minute consensus.

Fifth, let the NRA “finish the job”? You have to be kidding. We’re talking about nearly a half-century of the NRA being “on the job.” What do we have to show for that? Continuing civic discord, more lawsuits on the horizon, and a plan that has no genuine community support. Let me repeat that: No Genuine Community Support. Tom brings up our democratically elected leaders who keep rotating people in and out of the NRA. I would remind him that Mayor Holaday’s defeat of James Shanley six years ago was largely determined by her staunch defense of an “open waterfront,” which Shanley opposed. That was a manifestation of democracy that was ignored when the mayor suddenly reversed position. And let’s not exaggerate the make-up of the NRA as being “representative.” The only people the mayor will appoint to the NRA now are those who favor development. Not a single dissenting voice has been appointed. I don’t call that democracy at work.

Six, I resent Tom’s implication that NRA members devote their time free of charge to fulfilling the NRA’s mission when they have better things to do. As someone who has devoted hundreds of hours to community issues around here, let me state one fact: I too have better things to do.

I too have coached kids’ sports, served on committees and wasted prime time doing stuff for other people when I could be at home, watching re-runs of “Oprah.” If it weren’t for people like me and my like-minded friends in this community, Roger Foster’s hotel mess would be disfiguring the waterfront as we speak. As a matter of fact, that would probably be in bankruptcy court by now, replaced by a Motel 6. All of us would have preferred spending our nights at home and our money on Red Sox tickets. We did not.

Until the NRA begins representing the will of the people on this matter, I foresee many more long nights in my future. They will be well spent if one day in my life I can walk a landscaped open waterfront not distracted by crass commercialism. This would be a fitting tribute to the hundreds of Newburyporters who have fought so long to save this communal treasure for future generations.

The NRA needs a history lesson. They have completely forgotten the litigious backdrop of our waterfront as they follow in Roger Foster’s ill-fated footsteps.

At present, no one from that glorious struggle has a seat at the table, which is disgraceful.

Do they think, after a 50-year battle, that we are going away? Only the Grim Reaper will thin our ranks.


James Charles Roy lives in Newburyport.