Can offshore wind revive America’s ports? This town hopes so

Benjamin Storrow, E&E News reporter

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — This salt-caked fishing port has been flush with wind prospectors ever since Massachusetts legislators passed a law for massive wind development in the shallow waters south of Martha’s Vineyard.

Ed Anthes-Washburn, a local port official, estimates he gives five harbor tours a month to wind industry representatives. Planning for the industry’s arrival now occupies much of his time, alongside proposals to redevelop several old industrial sites and a Seattle-style fish pier.

“It started Aug. 8, the day the governor signed the bill,” Anthes-Washburn said, gazing out over the harbor here, where a mass of fishing trawlers, scallopers and clam boats formed a rocking forest of rigging and nets. “It’s been pretty consistent since then.”

States up and down the Atlantic coast are rushing to become the capital of America’s burgeoning offshore wind industry, hoping the massive turbines will breathe new life into ports mired by a shrinking fishing industry and a flagging industrial base.

Maryland officials last month approved renewable energy credits for two developments totaling 368 megawatts off their shores in a bid to transform Baltimore and Ocean City into the industry’s manufacturing and maintenance hub in the Mid-Atlantic (Climatewire, May 12).

Lawmakers in New Jersey are counting down the days until Gov. Chris Christie (R) leaves office early next year, when they plan to restore their own credits for offshore wind developments (Energywire, June 9).

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) wants to bring 2,400 megawatts of wind power online by 2030 (Energywire, Jan. 11).

But few places are betting on offshore wind quite like New Bedford.

‘Diversification play’

This blue-collar city of roughly 95,000 people on the south coast of Massachusetts is the closest commercial port to one of the best offshore wind resources in North America, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. And where offshore wind development has struggled in the past, the ocean is now open for business. Three companies have secured federal leases for projects 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.

New Bedford officials have wasted no time positioning their city as the port of choice for the emerging industry. Massachusetts has invested $113 million in the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, a 26-acre parcel designed to withstand the heavy loads needed to accommodate large wind turbines.

A consortium of local colleges has created a curriculum to prepare students for the day that specialized watercraft is needed to ferry technicians out to the hulking turbines. And state and local officials are busy hosting workshops intended to create an onshore supply chain to serve the growing industry.

There are even a few signs of the industry’s presence in New Bedford Harbor. On a recent day, the Ocean Researcher, a survey vessel belonging to the Danish wind giant Dong Energy, was preparing to cast off from the marine commerce terminal.

“This is the largest commercial fishing port in the United States. Our people know what they’re doing out in the mid-Atlantic. We have all those things going for us,” said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell.

“For us, the offshore wind industry represents a strong diversification play,” he added. “This is an industry that will be around for the foreseeable future. It will be the source of a variety of types of jobs. And we want to play up our attributes and make the most of the opportunity. It isn’t an end-all, be-all. It’s more about diversifying our industrial base.”

Europe’s decaying fishing ports offer a tantalizing example of what New Bedford could be. Ports along the United Kingdom’s eastern coast have witnessed £400 million ($512 million) in investment related to wind development since 2011, according to a 2016 report commissioned by the Offshore Wind Industry Council.

Dong, the world’s largest wind developer, plans on investing £6 billion in the Humber region on the United Kingdom’s east coast by 2019. The company estimates its developments in the North Sea will create 1,600 construction jobs and 500 long-term jobs in a region that has been devastated by the fishing industry’s decline. Siemens AG recently opened a £310 million blade factory in Hull, one of the Humber’s largest communities, creating 1,000 jobs.

‘A new life,’ but risks loom

The appeal is obvious in a city like New Bedford, where fortunes rise and fall with the price of scallops and the unemployment rate stands at 7.2 percent, almost double the Massachusetts average.

“If you read their history, it’s like reading New Bedford’s history,” said Paul Vigeant, who doubles as Bristol Community College’s vice president of workforce development and the director of the New Bedford Wind Energy Center. “Once the proud whaling capital, then the fishing capital of the U.K. until they lost the cod war to Iceland. And now they find themselves the closest port to the offshore wind sites, and they’ve got a new life.”

But where Europe’s offshore industry has boomed in recent years, its American counterpart remains in its infancy. Europe has installed more than 3,500 turbines capable of generating about 12,600 MW of power, according to a report by WindEurope. Five turbines capable of producing 30 MW off Rhode Island represent the extent of the U.S. industry.

Few are predicting a boom in wind jobs here anytime soon. Turbine manufacturing is likely to remain in countries like the United Kingdom and Germany for the foreseeable future, with North American developers expected to import blades from Europe.

“If you look to European experience, offshore wind has been deployed from a number of port facilities in the North Sea, which have been transformed from sleepy shipping ports to thriving industrial centers,” said Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski. “That’s not going to happen here overnight. We do not have enough scale in the region.”

Still, offshore wind represents a return of sorts to New Bedford’s energy past. The city was one of America’s leading whaling ports during 19th century, when whale oil was used for lighting and lubrication. Herman Melville famously embarked from the port on a whaling odyssey that became the basis for “Moby-Dick.”

New Bedford today can boast some bright spots. Coffee shops, brew pubs and art galleries line the cobblestone streets in the city’s historic downtown. And while the fishing industry has declined across the Northeast, much of what remains has consolidated along New Bedford’s warren of wharfs.

In 2014 and 2015, New Bedford’s fleet hauled ashore more than $320 million worth of fish, more than any other American port, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Scallops are responsible for much of that bounty, accounting for 80 percent of the value of New Bedford’s catch.

Big ideas fizzled. Will wind?

Still, the community has not escaped the maladies of other fishing towns. The groundfishing industry has been decimated in recent years. Local wages lag behind state benchmarks. And city officials must confront skepticism born from chasing past economic chimeras.

Plans for a casino and Olympic sailing, a proposal tied to Boston’s aborted bid to host the 2024 summer Olympic Games, have come and gone. This isn’t even the first time offshore wind has been tried.

The marine terminal was initially built to serve the ill-fated Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound. But when the two utilities with agreements to buy power from the 130-turbine wind farm pulled out in 2015, the terminal was widely panned as a waste of taxpayer funds.

Then there’s the tension between New Bedford’s old and emerging industries. The city joined a lawsuit last year against an offshore wind development along the New York coast, saying the project was sited in prime scalloping waters. The city’s argument: Wind is good, but turbines need to be properly sited in order to coexist with the fishing industry.

“I think the fishing industry is naturally skeptical. In the last several decades, changes in regulations have not gone their way,” said Anthes-Washburn, the port official. “I think there are concerns about what will happen when the windmills go up.”

But there is noticeable excitement in the city, as well. At No Problemo Taqueria, where diners were lining up for tacos and burritos one recent afternoon, a sign hung in the window showing five turbines and the word “YES.”

Some of the skepticism in the community is understandable, Nuno Pereira said as he manned the cash register.

“This area has been down in the dumps for a while,” he said. Wind, Pereira added, could help turn that around.

“I think it’s the future,” he said. “Progress just plods along.”

State and city officials are similarly optimistic that this time is different. Unlike Cape Wind, which would have been visible from the shore, developments proposed today are at least 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, where they cannot be seen by the naked eye.

The federal leasing process off the coast of Massachusetts was designed to address the concerns of fishermen, siting turbines outside prime fishing grounds, shipping channels and migratory paths.

Today’s turbines are also bigger, capable of producing 6 to 8 MW of power. That is up from the 3.6-MW turbines proposed by Cape Wind.

Costs are falling as a result. A University of Delaware study of Massachusetts’ wind proposals predicted that costs could fall from 16.2 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2023 to 10.8 cents per kWh in 2029, when accounting for transmission. Cape Wind, by contrast, projected costs of 24 cents per kWh.

New law requires wind

But by far the biggest change is the legislation passed in Massachusetts last year. It requires utilities to purchase 1,600 MW of offshore wind, enough to power a quarter of Massachusetts homes. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center estimates that the turbines will reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2.4 million tons.

Just as importantly, the law effectively creates a market for offshore wind at a time when many of the aging coal, oil and nuclear units that underpinned New England’s electric grid are retiring (Climatewire, May 30).

“The appetite and interest is there, and it’s real,” said Thomas Brostrøm, who leads Dong’s North American operations.

The proposed wind area’s proximity to load centers like Boston; the relatively shallow waters of the continental shelf off Massachusetts, where ocean depths range from 90 to 180 feet; and consistent wind speeds averaging more than 20 mph make the region particularly attractive, he said.

“It looks similar to northwest Europe. That can be a benefit to a region like New England. Others led the way,” Brostrøm said. “I am bullish.”

The Danish-based company is one of three developers that have leased tracts of ocean south of Martha’s Vineyard and are competing to win the Massachusetts contract. Vineyard Wind, a partnership of Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, and Deepwater Wind of Providence, R.I., are the other two companies.

The three candidates are expected to submit bids for a first round of development consisting of at least 400 MW later this year, though they are allowed to also submit alternative bids ranging from 200 to 800 MW. State regulators will sign off on a final contract by Nov. 1, 2018. Operations are expected to begin around 2020.

New Bedford officials’ immediate focus is positioning the city as an operations and maintenance hub for the industry.

They are busy developing land-use plans to accommodate the wind and fishing industries in a port that already hosts 700 working boats. Economic planners, meanwhile, are rushing to ensure that the region is prepared to serve wind companies when construction starts. Bristol Community College is offering a new academic program for students aspiring to become wind technicians. And the Massachusetts Maritime Academy is updating its vessel safety curriculum to serve the industry.

“We’re in Titusville in 1810 where they found oil. We’re at the cusp of creating a new base industry for the United States,” Vigeant said. “Part of the exciting thing for this area is we’re closest to the biggest and best place in North America. So it’s kind of a good deal.”

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Original story here.

State official calls new business park at Whaling City Golf Course ‘a no-brainer’

Posted Jun 13, 2017 at 7:03 PM
Updated Jun 13, 2017 at 10:18 PM

NEW BEDFORD — Jay Ash, the state’s housing and economic development secretary, looked out Tuesday upon the driving range at Whaling City Golf Course. He squinted to see the farthest distance marker at 265 yards.

“How many tries to hit it that far?” the imposing secretary nearing 7-feet tall said to those touring the course.

All kidding aside, the conversation quickly transitioned from golf to business opportunity, which appeared more feasible than a 265-yard drive.

“This is as close to a no-brainer as you can get,” Ash said.

Last month, Mayor Jon Mitchell announced an agreement between the city and MassDevelopment to convert a 100-acre section of the golf course into a business park that could create at least 1,000 jobs.

Ash could think of only two other sites in the state that have as much job-growth potential, are within a city and are near highways, rail and an airport: A former Naval airbase in Weymouth and vacant space across from Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.

“When the mayor first talked about this, some of the members of the legislative delegation thought, ‘Boy, this would be an awesome opportunity,’” Ash said. “It fits right into what our program is.”

When Gov. Charlie Baker came into office in 2015, he looked to Ash to promote a new state program geared at finding “shovel-ready development sites” that can spark job growth.

“I’m not aware of anything this south and attached to a city,” Ash said. “We’re seeing a great deal of investments come back to cities. New Bedford has benefited from that.”

However, the secretary said a business park in the golf course is far from a done deal. Mitchell and New Bedford Economic Development Council’s executive director Derek Santos agreed.

At the city level, public discussions need to be hosted. Plans need to be revisited. Land needs to be surveyed.

At the state level, Ash said there’s a need to understand what’s in the ground, the topography and speak with the private sector.

“It doesn’t happen overnight, so let’s not kid ourselves,” Ash said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. You can’t get to develop a million square feet if you don’t have a site.”

From the golf course, Ash met with Mitchell to speak to investors and developers regarding other vacant space within the city.

Developers received informational packets and took tours of downtown and the mills in the South End.

“I think there’s tremendous opportunity in the city. It was really a great presentation,” said Rich Relich, who toured the city as part of Arch Community, a real estate developer.

Ash echoed those thoughts.

His job requires him to tour the state and at each function someone asks, “Where’s the next place to take off?”

“New Bedford is in that conversation,” Ash said.

Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT.

Original story here.

Purchase of 107-year-old New Bedford mill could spark investment in South End

Posted Jun 16, 2017 at 7:04 PM

NEW BEDFORD — The Cove Walk in the South End has a new neighbor.

Jacinta Murphy bought the 500,000-square-foot mill that houses New Bedford Antiques at the Cove among about 60 businesses in the unit on May 30 for $1.5 million.

“We are thrilled to commence much needed capital improvements to the building to obtain additional rental tenants and plan for new future users for this excellently situated water-view property,” Murphy, principal of the company said in a statement.

About half the mill is occupied, leaving about 250,000 square feet to work as a canvas for J. Murray & Sons Construction’s vision.

“They’ve always looked at NB as an opportunity. We do a lot of stuff around Boston. I grew up in Somerville. New Bedford reminds me of Somerville 15 years ago,” Jim Murray, owner of J. Murray & Sons. “There’s a lot of good things happening.”

Peter Andrade, who worked as the property manager for the previous owners, accepted the same role with the new organization.

Andrade has managed the property for 30 years and said the Lefkowitz family purchased the building in the 1950s. After decades of dedication, a change was needed.

“The building needed a transition of ownership and to bring new ideas and fresh perspective,” Andrade said. “That’s what we’ve gotten with the new ownership. It’s like a breath of fresh air.”

The immediate future for the 107-year-old mill will include new windows and roofing, which will include solar panels.

 The notion of an update to the 21st century brought excitement to businesses already residing in the mill.

“I’ve been around many places,” said Luis Villanueva, owner of Colo-Colo art gallery. “I think it’s going in the right direction.”

Villanueva, who moved his art studio from downtown to the South End about four years ago, said his rent hasn’t increased and he’s excited to remain at the mill to witness the changes.

One idea he’s heard floated around is a coffee shop on the third floor overlooking Clark’s Cove.

The idea excites Andrade, too.

“There’s tremendous potential regarding occupancy and just going forward with little shops and possibly a cafe,” Andrade said. “There’s’ so many ways to use the building.”

For now, the owners hope small businesses and shops will be attracted to the vacant spaces. Eventually, Andrade envisions residential properties consuming some of the space.

“Probably long term,” Andrade said. “Realistically, I think ultimately, the mill at some point in time in the far future will be developed into residential properties.”

Murray guessed the earliest residential units could reach the building would be 15 years.

The announcement of the property followed a Developer’s Tour hosted by the city on Tuesday.

Mayor Jon Mitchell welcomed investors as Derek Santos, the executive director of the Economic Development Council, led tours throughout the city of available properties, including multiple in the South End.

While this mill was already off the market during the tour, Santos drew a line toward the northern part of the city, specifically the development of the Wamsutta Loft to the Riverbank Lofts.

“I think this could be the beginning of the same type of investment spark that we saw in the upper harbor,” Santos said.

Contact Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT.

New Bedford police start ‘Walk and Talk’ to strengthen community relations

Posted Jun 15, 2017 at 7:45 PM

New Bedford a ‘poster child for cultural development’

2017 SouthCoast5, Jacobs Leadership winner honored

By Wesley Sykes /
Posted Jun 15, 2017 at 9:11 PM
Updated Jun 15, 2017 at 9:11 PM

Tony Sapienza urged the emerging leaders of Greater New Bedford to ‘sail away from the safe harbor.’

NEW BEDFORD — Joseph Abboud CEO Tony Sapienza is set to retire, but before doing so he passed along some of his secrets to success.

They were simple.

“Organize. Delegate. Supervise. Check,” he told the crowd at the New Bedford Whaling Museum for the SouthCoast5 awards. “As a leader of a business, you must create jobs; build a team; make money; and give back to the community.”

For 21 years, Sapienza followed those words, told to him by his father. On Thursday, as the recipient of the Irwin M. and Joan K. Jacobs Leadership Award, he bestowed those words to those in the audience.

“I like that he said things don’t have to be over-complicated,” said Brian Pastori, deputy director of the Community Economic Development Center. “He has a simple life motto: respect other people and organize a team that works for you.”

Pastori, one of the five emerging leaders awarded, said it was comforting to know as Sapienza executes that approach on the macro level, with roughly 800 employees, he can do the same with a team of four.

“That meant a lot,” he said.

The other emerging leaders awarded were Jennifer Vincent, a partner and adjunct faculty member for Smith & Vincent Grant Writing Services and BCC; Scott DuBois, co-founder of Pidalia; Jeffrey Wotton, founder of Spectrum Marketing Group; Bruce W. Tench II, assistant principal of Dighton-Rehoboth Regional School District.

Wotton was encouraged by the presence of community-minded people.

“We all have the same amount of time. We all have the same demands in life, but to see how some people step up more than others is really important,” he said. “I think the area needs that. I think we more people like them.”

Building on his final bullet point — giving back to the community — Mayor Jon Mitchell, along with The Standard-Times and editor Beth Perdue, introduced Sapienza as a champion for the city in business, education, philanthropy and economics.

“New Bedford is a place where business can thrive once again. He helps set the tone for that,” said Mitchell, stopping at one point to motion to the inner stitching of his suit jacket that showed the Joseph Abboud label. “He moves the needle in New Bedford.”

Perdue added, “It’s been said that a rising tide lifts all boats. Tony is a strong current within the rising tide.”

In addition to running the men’s clothing manufacturing site, Sapienza is also the chair for the Greater New Bedford Workforce Investment Board, Regeneration Committee and the New Bedford Economic Development Council.

He urged the crowd to not shy away from acting in self-interest. It’s important, he said, recalling the desire to get a good education and meeting sale quotas helped better those around him as well as himself.

“Acting for self interest can benefit the community,” Wotton, who took that message to heart, said. “If we don’t act in our own self interests to better ourselves how are we going to better the lives of those around us?”

To close, Sapienza — who took time to clear the emotional lump in his throat — hearkened back to a Mark Twain quote, imploring the crowd to do as much as possible.

“Twenty years from now, you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did,” he said. “Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore and discover.”

Follow Wesley Sykes on Twitter @WesleySykes_SCT.

Original story here

New Bedford’s plan for business park include 1,000 jobs, 9-hole golf course

Posted May 18, 2017 at 2:18 PM

By Michael Bonner /

NEW BEDFORD — “A lot of work” still needs to be done before the city can transform part of the Whaling City Golf Course into a business park, the mayor said Thursday.

“It’s not a done deal,” Mayor Jon Mitchell said at an afternoon news conference. “There’s still a number of questions that have to be sorted through.”

The city and MassDevelopment plan to convert a 100-acre section of the golf course into a 1.3 million-square-foot commercial site that could create at least 1,000 jobs. The golf course would downsize to a 9-hole course, which was its original size in 1920.

The city targeted the course because of its sufficient acreage and access to highways, rails and airport.

The biggest hurdle to the project could be Article 97, which protects municipally held green space. Legislation is needed when working on protected land. However, Mitchell said only a portion of the golf course falls under Article 97 protection.

“The part that we’re building on is not protected park land,” Mitchell said.

State Rep. Chris Markey called the announcement “bittersweet” as he reminisced about playing all 18 holes as a child.

“I’m certain there are many other people who have great memories of being able to play golf at a cheap rate in the city,” he said. “…You need to make sure you take every opportunity as the mayor said and take advantage of every asset you have.”

Some residents in attendance voiced displeasure with the plans because the city would lose a green space. Those concerns reached the state level, too.

“It will be incumbent upon the city, but I will strongly suggest a very public process,” Sen. Mark Montigny said.

With proper public vetting, the New Bedford native backed the idea.

“When you look at the positive aspects, I think it has the potential to be a major job creator,” Montigny said.

The park could produce $2 million annually in property tax.

“Let me tell you, New Bedford needs to increase its tax base,” Markey said. “It has to. It cannot survive without that. It will never survive without that. The opportunity that this avails the city and the people of New Bedford is incredible.”

The projected cost for the project is $12 million. Funding, in part, is expected to come from land sales and state and federal funding. MassDevelopment announced a $300,000 grant during the press conference.

The city plans to convey the land to MassDevelopment based on sharing the net proceeds at completion.

MassDevelopment would inherit the cost for demolishing the clubhouse and the redesign of the course. The city would be responsible for constructing a new clubhouse.

The course would remain open through the project. Mitchell suggested the earliest any ground may be broken on the project would be in 2019.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” Mitchell said.

Original Story Here:

SouthCoast Today – Our View: Dredge the Port of New Bedford to 30 feet

Fairhaven selectmen this week added their voices to the growing chorus looking for New Bedford Harbor to be dredged to its authorized depth.

Dredging to the authorized depth of 30 feet would open the port to more vessels and activity, and would allow the construction of more maritime infrastructure. It would bring millions of dollars of economic activity to the port and many hundreds of jobs. It could be undertaken cooperatively, so that state-authorized dredging and federal dredging for contamination and maintenance could enjoy efficiencies estimated to save about $10 million.

Despite federal programs to maintain ports like New Bedford’s, limited federal money presents a hindrance to their accomplishment. The commonwealth has picked up part of the effort.

Local legislators and public officials are right to raise their voices, knowing that 30-foot dredging hasn’t been done for 50 years. Every hint of momentum for greater economic activity acts as a prod to get more cargo ships, more docks, and new industries into port.

The only concern has been raised by Hands Across the River, which wants protections for people when sediment contaminated by PCBs is moved according to procedures being followed for Superfund dredging. A study released this winter, however, suggests that airborne PCB contamination around the Superfund site exists because of ambient emissions, not because it was disturbed during dredging. Nevertheless, HARC’s concerns aren’t to be casually dismissed.

Budget constraints never fail to change government’s plans, and we are far from confident regarding state revenue projections, which, as usual, continue to be estimated down. We understand those constraints and concerns, but because we do have confidence in the commonwealth to make wise decisions, we will urge the administration’s consideration of port issues — an undeniable priority, considering the lieutenant governor’s vigorous leadership of the Seaport Economic Council — to adjust its course enough to prioritize dredging of the rich, vibrant Port of New Bedford. The port is already delivering revenue to Boston beyond what one might expect from the population. Dredging will bring even more.

CoveWalk officially opens on New Bedford’s South End

By Michael Bonner /

NEW BEDFORD — Mayor Jon Mitchell welcomed back state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack about a year and a half after their first discussion of the CoveWalk.

Pollack returned Wednesday to New Bedford with Gov. Charlie Baker to witness the fruits of the state’s $5 million investment for the official ribbon-cutting of the CoveWalk.

“When you walk over the walkway and take a look out and see what’s behind you, it’s an ‘oh, wow moment,’” Baker said. “It gives us all the ability to help people in this community remember where they are, which is sitting here on this beautiful harbor.”

Mitchell joked that when he and Pollack first discussed the CoveWalk, they faced even worse elements compared to the strong steady breeze they dealt with on Wednesday.

It’s located atop the New Bedford Hurricane Barrier on the west side of the South End peninsula on Clark’s Cove. The CoveWalk measures 5,500 feet, more than 2,000 feet longer than the HarborWalk, located on the east side of the peninsula.

“When people come to our city, from now on, we want people to think not only of the Whaling Museum and the fishing industry, but also the great public spaces like this,” Mitchell said.

The official opening of the walkway is the latest addition to “The Blue Lane,” a name the city labeled the walking and bike paths that span the city’s 11-mile shoreline.

Mitchell handed Baker, Pollack and their staff members commemorative “Blue Lane” water bottles before the ribbon-cutting.

“Everyone should have a chance to have something like this in their community,” Mitchell said. “New Bedforders have deserved something like this for the last 50 years. So that’s what’s most pleasing about it.”

Construction began on the hurricane barrier in 1962 and was completed in 1966. The barrier remains the largest man-made structure on the East Coast of the United States.

Until recently, they also blocked a view of the waterfront.

“While it does a great job of protecting everybody from Mother Nature’s worst days, the problem with that is you don’t have the ability without this type of walk way to appreciate what’s on the other side,” Baker said.

P.A. Landers and Seguin Enterprises completed the construction that included 2,230 cubic yards of concrete, 11,100 feet of aluminium railing and 44,300 feet of electric wiring to power the 230 light fixtures.

The 13-inch concrete foundation of the walkway actually stabilizes the the hurricane barrier, Mitchell said, making it stronger than before in more ways that one.

“There’s a lot happening here,” Mitchell said. “We think that in a few years you’re going to see continued private investment here.”

Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT.


Original Story Here

Refurbished Seamen’s Bethel and Mariners’ Home opens in New Bedford

By Steve Urbon

NEW BEDFORD — Visitors to the Whaling Museum had a pleasant surprise waiting for them when they bought their tickets Friday: Tickets may have gone up a dollar to $17, but that extra dollar bought them admission to the “soft” opening day of the refurbished Seamen’s Bethel and Mariners’ Home.

Fred Toomey, president of the Port Society of New Bedford, which owns the two buildings, showed up at 7:30 a.m. Friday to pick up where he and others left off in completing the building projects. “This has been my second home,” he said. “My wife never sees me.”

Whaling Museum curator Arthur Motta and senior historian Michael Dyer were among those installing antiques and images from the museum’s vast collection in the Mariners’ Home, which is open to the public for the first time in anyone’s memory. No longer will it be a haven for mariners but rather a museum with themed exhibits representing facets of New Bedford. The original kitchen is now an exhibit devoted to modern fishing, and the brick beehive oven has been exposed to admire but not actually use.

There is a room devoted to “Moby-Dick,” the book and especially the movie. There is the Rotch Room, so named for the family that built the Mariners’ Home in 1797.

A walk-through the Home and the Bethel makes it clear that this $2.9 million restoration and expansion project has given Toomey and the rest of the society and the docents a lot of new things to talk about.

In the new main entry, back behind the buildings, is a reception desk made entirely out of salvaged wood and planks.

The desk top, Toomey explains, “came from a plank that was 29 feet long and 30 inches wide and made up a part of the floor” of the Bethel’s basement meeting room, or salt box. “Imagine the size of the tree that came from,“e said.

Over in the Bethel, unlike the Mariners’ Home, everything looks as it has. But there are hidden improvements. “The building is air-conditioned for the first time,” Toomey said.

It is also structurally stable, as compared to the dire condition prior to the project that found the Bethel ready to collapse.

“There’s $89,000 worth of work underneath the floor” of the saltbox, Toomey said. Rotten support beams had taken their toll.

Another selling point: A large granite block, perhaps six feet square and 16 inches thick, is the new welcome mat, having been discovered when uncovering an old cistern.

The Bethel rests on ledge, which brought its own issues. Repairs to the floors had to be done in the Bethel by digging down to uneven ledge, then filling with packed sand, peastone gravel, concrete, two-by-four stringers, marine plywood and then the floorboard.

There is an elevator for the first time to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is big enough to handle a gurney, Toomey said. “We don’t say casket.” That is a reminder that the Bethel is a church and sometimes hosts funerals.

Most visitors won’t see the second and third floors of the Mariners’ Home. The second floor is already occupied by the Waterfront Historic Area League, and the Preservation Society will soon move in to the shared space.

The third floor will house the Port Society, a conference room and a kitchen/break room.

The project has raised much of what it needed to pay for it all, but Toomey said that “the capital campaign continues.”

At the Whaling Museum, which has filled the Mariners’ Home with dozens of objects and more to come, admission has risen a dollar to $17, and it is now a combined admission to the Whaling Museum and the Port Society’s properties.

Toohey said there will not be a paid ticket to get into the Bethel and Mariners’ Home directly because it is a church. Anyone who skips the museum will be admitted anyway with a polite request for a donation to defray expenses.

An official grand opening is set for May 19.

Follow Steve Urbon on Twitter @SteveUrbonSCT.


Original Story Here