Closed to vehicles and with limited pedestrian access, Plymouth’s deteriorating T-Wharf in historic downtown is not only a nuisance to local fishermen, it’s also a money pit for the town.
Temporary repairs have done little to help the structure keep up with the demands of commercial fishing and recreational activities crucial to local economic growth. And at a time when officials are looking to expand the town’s stake in the region’s thriving aquaculture industry, the wharf is acting as a deterrent — and for that they believe it has got to go.
Residents agree. At Town Meeting last Saturday, they approved using $1.25 million to raze and rebuild the wharf, said Town Manager Melissa Arrighi.
“It’s just an eyesore for the area,” Arrighi said.
Replacing T-Wharf will be vital to attracting private-sector investment in aquaculture, or seafood farming, which is already being done successfully in Duxbury by Island Creek Oysters, said David Gould, director of Plymouth’s Department of Marine and Environmental Affairs.
“It’s another part of the fishing economy we’d like to see start growing,” Gould said. “But we need the infrastructure for that. . . . T-Wharf was originally built for lobster and ground fishermen. A lot of the growth of the fishing industry [today] is the aquaculture.”
Rebuilding T-Wharf is part of a broader waterfront improvement plan, estimated at $6 million, that would improve and expand docking, fishing, and tourism activities. The $1.25 million approved at Town Meeting could give the town an edge over other communities vying for state grants for waterfront projects, Gould said.
“What we can say now is we have a match in hand for state approval,” he said, adding that the money would provide a 20 to 30 percent match to a potential grant.
In its application to the state’s Seaport Advisory Council for a $2.5 million grant, Plymouth officials projected that reconstruction of the T-Wharf would lead to private aquaculture investment, “estimated to support 223 new jobs and $16 million in annual sales.”
According to the application, a component of the project would include the expansion of Island Creek’s operations into a 100-acre area suitable for aquaculture use that would be controlled by the town of Plymouth, and another 100 acres privately controlled by the company.
Replacing the wharf would also increase the dock space needed for commercial fishing vessels. Currently, the wharf’s structure has led to vessels crowding the adjacent town pier, where commercial boats operate right next to excursion boats, including popular whale-watching vessels. Officials say that’s a safety hazard.
In addition to rebuilding T-Wharf, the first phase of the project would include construction of a new pier, called the south pier, extending off the existing town pier, Gould said.
“That would allow us to have vehicles, and jib cranes for fishermen, and electrical lighting,” he said.
The second and third phases of the project, which would require additional funding, include building a north pier and dredging around the area to accommodate larger vessels to expand commercial operations and tourism.
“Because tourism is our No. 1 industry, we’re always bringing tall ships, small cruise ships, and other recreational boats,” said Denis Hanks, executive director of the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce and of the Plymouth Regional Economic Development Foundation . “Some of these movements are going to be very critical as we continue to grow the recreational, commercial, aquaculture side. . . . We think this will be a catalyst to really get this pier built.”
If the waterfront is not improved, Hanks said, the town will lose millions in potential commercial and tourism revenue. Already, the town has missed out on opportunities, such as hosting the historic Nantucket Lightship , which is too large to accommodate along the waterfront, Hanks said.
“We’re hoping [the approval of funds at Town Meeting] will release that state money,” he said.
The town applied for the Seaport Advisory Council grant about a year ago, Gould said. The council, which meets twice a year, reviews project applications and decides which will be considered for funding based on the availability of money in the state’s environmental bond bill.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray, who chairs the council, said it is aware of Plymouth’s Town Meeting vote and is looking “forward to reviewing their application shortly.”
With funding from the economic development foundation, the town is preparing to plant 180 bushels of quahogs in the bay this month to kick-start interest in aquaculture, Hanks said.
“We’re hoping as the [aquaculture] zoning grows, the private farmers will seed those,” he said. “On the aquaculture side, the piers will be very helpful when we start harvesting this and bringing them up on the boats and the piers. . . . It’s kind of getting the whole harbor back to where it should be.”