Sunday, January 09, 2011

In Gloucester, a gathering place scattered all about

The Boston Globe

In Gloucester, a gathering place scattered all about
Storm leaves hole in a sea wall, and in a city’s psyche
(Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
By David Rattigan
Globe Correspondent / January 9, 2011

Days after the late-December storm that had damaged part of the Lanes Cove sea wall in the Lanesville section of Gloucester, a steady stream of local folks stopped in to have a look.

Rick Paolillo described a "hidden jewel" where people could come to enjoy some scenery, or do some fishing. He said that he would walk along the smooth ledge of the sea wall — built on both sides of the cove — all the way to the center entrance, dubbed the “hole in the wall."

“This is a great place to come to watch the sun go down," said Paolillo, a retired firefighter who lives in nearby Rockport.

“That’s why it’s sad to see something like that," he said, pointing to a section of sea wall that had been turned into a pile of granite blocks.

The curious were still stopping by to take a look this week, as the city was trying to determine the extent of the damage, the first step in the effort to repair the historic landmark (it was dedicated in 1842) that offers protection for residents who still keep their boats moored and gear stored in the cove.

With Governor Deval Patrick declaring a state of emergency, the city was hopeful that it might receive state and federal disaster relief funds.

“There are a number of families who make their livelihood lobstering out of that area,’’ said Michael Hale, the city’s Department of Public Works director. “For those people, we need to restore it to its previous condition."

Restoring it quickly is also a concern, Hale said, since with the wall already weakened, “another storm could do a lot more damage."

On Thursday, Hale met with representatives of Newburyport-based Vine Associates, which the city hired to do a structural assessment of the damage.

Hale hopes to have a damage estimate by tomorrow, and he will submit that figure to federal and state agencies handling relief funds.

“The wall didn’t collapse, but it might be ready to," said harbormaster Jim Caulkett. “So we need a good study of the whole area."

Depending on the extent of the damage, Hale said that repairs could run from $300,000 to more than $1 million.

The sea wall is built from granite slabs, quarried locally, that weigh five to eight tons each. Approximately 30 feet of the sea wall was knocked down by the storm, and a ledge alongside another section also collapsed.

Caulkett also noted that chunks of debris littered the parking lot. “The ocean’s a powerful force," he said. “It can move rocks."

The rest of Gloucester sustained very little damage in the post-Christmas nor’easter, but in Caulkett’s words, “Lanes Cove got the full brunt of the high tide and the wind-driven sea — the storm surge.’’

Hale agreed.

“There were walls of water running through the bay," Hale said. “That bay is fairly calm, but the swells coming through Ipswich Bay during that event were enormous — 35-foot swells. It was pretty dramatic watching them.

“At the tail end, they had become 10- to 12-foot waves, smashing against the rocks and really slamming that wall with force. I live a couple of blocks up, and even with the window closed I could hear the pounding all night long. It was a ferocious storm."

On Jan. 5, the DPW installed jersey barriers and signs warning people to stay off the wall, for safety reasons.

Exactly what the next step is will be determined by Vine’s assessment, Hale said, but the city might need to move quickly if the damage is significant.

In addition to the 40-plus moorings in the cove, the sea wall provides protection for some houses.

“We need a structural analysis and assessment of current conditions," Hale said, noting that, “Wherever you see damage, there could be more damage that we can’t see."

The sea wall has become a favorite spot for those wishing to fish, swim, walk a dog or watch a sunset.

Up until recently, the cove was the site of an annual bonfire, which became a victim of its own success when it was canceled because town officials determined that it was drawing too large a crowd.

“It’s kind of nostalgic in its own sense," said Hale. “It’s the kind of place where you’ll see the community come together."

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