Massachusetts: Gaping holes in Plymouth Harbor seawall
Walk down the stone steps along Water Street and the wall of granite blocks holding up the Great Depression Wall built by Works Progress Administration, or WPA, crews back in the day is clearly visible. So are the gaping holes in it.
PLYMOUTH – “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
Poet Robert Frost wrote that about walls in general, and they apply to the Water Street seawall specifically.
Walk down the stone steps along Water Street and the wall of granite blocks holding up the Great Depression Wall built by Works Progress Administration, or WPA, crews back in the day is clearly visible.
So are the gaping holes in it.
Town Manager Melissa Arrighi told the Select Board Tuesday night that the Water Street seawall is compromised with cracks and fissures, some of them two feet wide. The structural integrity of the wall is in question, which raises the question of what is to be done.
Arrighi said she is looking into solutions with the Public Works Department to possibly conduct some temporary patch work on the wall in the spring. The Historic District and Conservation Commission would need to be consulted, she said, and possibly a notice of intent filed to determine if this is feasible, and what would be required.
She noted that the town is not planning on requesting funds for a wall repair at the moment. Meanwhile, the WPA wall, which is built on top of the old wall, would not be structurally able to support any road enhancements.
“Because road and sidewalks are needed upgrades, and the wall is integral to the road and sidewalks, we didn’t want to do any further repairs to that sensitive public area without elevating the wall in order to coincide with coastal resiliency,” she added.
In other words, not much can be done to repair the roadway above without addressing the seawall below.
The hope was that the Select Board would, at some point, resubmit the Water Street promenade project, which failed not once but twice at Town Meeting in 2017; that would have included a repair, modification and replacement of existing wall sections, she said. The project would also have provided a boardwalk as well as road improvements and sidewalks.
Arrighi said she can investigate a temporary fix of the joints using cement fill and have the work done in house. She said she would get an estimate of the work and present that to the board.
The Water Street Promenade project became a bit of a thorn in the side of Town Meeting two years ago when glitches in the electronic voting mired the process. Three votes that would have approved the project were not counted, apparently. But subsequent votes created a wider gap, sealing the proposal as having failed. The Select Board took the unprecedented step of calling for a Special Town meeting to reconsider the issue. But it still didn’t pass.
A number of Town Meeting members balked at the $16.9 million price tag on The Promenade project that would have caused tax increases on a population already beleaguered by tax increases from debt exclusions and sewer repairs. Many said they liked the project but that the town should wait for better financial times. The town was planning to apply for a $1.7 million MassWorks grant and a $3 million Seawall grant to help offset the cost.
Complicating matters further was the question of the Great Depression Wall above the seawall, and what would be done with it.
Pilgrim Hall Museum Executive Director Donna Curtin, who supported the Promenade project, expressed concerns during this 2017 Town Meeting about a plan to remove a larger portion of the Great Depression Wall, which she noted was built during the depression by immigrants. This wall was designed to resemble an older, more historic wall in the harbor of Plymouth, England, she said.
Meanwhile, others say that this wall is blocking the view to the harbor, particularly for those in wheel chairs and others with mobility limitations. They want the wall either removed or relocated to another area.
Therefore, while Town Meeting deliberated for hours on this seawall and appeared to put the matter to bed, the issue of the seawall is not asleep and is not going away. The structural integrity of the roadway and sidewalk rely on this underpinning. It remains to be seen what solution Plymouth will embrace.