Salem Harbor Plan and Harbor Dredging Plan

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Map of Harbor

Photographs of Harbor Plan Presentation Boards Plan Text of May, 1999 Submission to the State)

 Meetings Schedule is now consolidated in the Meetings Page


Approach to New Salem Pier Area

New Salem Pier would be located to right

Pier Existing at Power Plant

Coal Freighter at Power Plant Pier


The Salem Harbor Plan has been developed over the past few years by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, with assistance from the City of Salem (primarily the Mayor and the Planning Department), and with the support of the Salem Partnership. The Plan was prepared by consultants funded by the Seaport Bond Bill and the Harbor Planning Committee appointed by the Mayor. This Plan is entitled the Salem Harbor Plan, and is in final form. It is before the City Council for approval. See the Meetings Schedule for details. It's recommendations will be accepted by the Commonwealth on September 30 unless the the comment period is extended.

The first sentence of the Plan says the "The City of Salem and its citizens have created this Plan to guide the future use and character of its central waterfront." Many of our members have attended the so-called "public workshops" associated with this Plan, and we question the validity of claiming that this is a plan "created by the citizens." Further, it is important to understand that the proposed dredging of Salem Harbor is intimately connected to implementation of the Plan's recommendations.

We would like to use this page to share perspectives and strategies for dealing with this Plan. We think it is important for the citizens of Salem to know what is in the Plan and to make up their own minds as to whether or not they support it. Consequently, this is a brief summary of critical elements of the Plan. We have also included excerpts from a letter recently sent to the Editor of the Salem Evening News. We encourage all citizens to obtain copies of the Plan from the City Planning Department.

The chief purpose of the Plan is to encourage the construction of a large pier at Blaney Street to allow large oceangoing ships to dock, the "New Salem Wharf" . It is important to understand that the Wharf which is proposed to be constructed is located at an area which has been designated by the Commonwealth as a Designated Port Area (DPA). The location of this area is described in the Plan as "extending from the U.S. Generating Company's site to (and including) the northernmost wharf of the Hawthorne Cove Marina." This includes the oil storage and transfer operation at the west side of the power plant operated by and perhaps owned by the Cargill/Northeast Petroleum. Some of the oil that is stored there now in the large tanks appears to be for the use of the power plant (about 20%) - the rest of the oil is trucked out to other facilities. This area designated as DPA is shown on the Plan on Page 97.

According to the Plan, "Within the DPA it is the intent of state policy and programs to encourage water-dependent industrial use." While these uses include "Facilities associated with commercial passenger vessel operations," it also includes "Marine terminals and related facilities for transfer and storage of goods transported by marine vessels," and "Manufacturing facilities relying on goods shipped by waterborne transportation," etc. Also allowed are other "non-water dependent industrial and commercial uses" if they provide support to industrial uses in the DPA. (1)

The CZM has said that in a Plan you are allowed to exclude uses which you do not want in the Harbor, or for example, at the Wharf. Our Plan has no exclusions for any uses allowed in a DPA. To the contrary, our Plan's first recommendation for Land side uses in the area where the pier is to be constructed is to "Provide uses consistent with Designated Port Area policies." (2) At the immediately adjacent land (the Industrial Port) the Plan "Supports continued and future marine industrial uses." (3)

Thus , while there may be cruise ships, ferries and whale watching boats at the New Salem Wharf, if it were to be used primarily by huge oil and LNG tankers and barges, that would be entirely consistent with the Plan as written. Indeed, if the Cargill/Northeast Petroleum facility directly adjacent to the new Wharf were to expand its oil transfer and terminal facility, that would also be consistent with and in fact supported by the Plan. Protests at a later date are likely to be too late.

The City, in its proposal to the State in 1995, made the statement that "...Salem could eventually handle a significant portion of the oil that now must enter Massachusetts through Chelsea Creek, relieving that congested port significantly, and providing more efficient distribution to the North Shore and even southern New Hampshire." In addition, the Salem Port Development Plan, A Plan for Development of the Designated Port Area of Salem Massachusetts (emphasis added), which is a precursor to the current Plan, notes that one benefit of the proposed plan would be "allowing larger vessels to deliver fuel at lower cost" and that it "Creates the potential for delivery of 10+ million barrels of heating oil and gasoline throughout the Commonwealth." (4) It is evident from both the current plan and its precursors that this is one of the key priorities of the city and state in establishing a new pier at Blaney Street. Those who have insisted that oil and oil transfer facilities have nothing to do with the Plan need to demonstrate how the Plan protects the citizens of Salem from having a major oil transfer facility in the middle of the Harbor.

There is also a separate, but linked, Harbor Dredging Plan for dredging the harbor. This dredging plan is to allow the deep draft vessels to turn around next to the new pier, and to allow docking. It also appears to allow for some extra mooring space for unspecified types of boats to the west of the pier. The dredging plan has drawn some controversy lately as the state has floated the idea of disposing of contaminated materials from other communities, in Salem's Harbor. People who are concerned about dredging should take into account that dredging is also discussed in the Harbor Plan, which includes a recommendation that Salem "Support the ongoing state-sponsored DMMP" (Dredge Material Management Program). (5) We would challenge CZM to identify the Salem citizens who asked that this recommendation be included in the Plan.

(1) Salem Harbor Plan, May 1999, Page 96

(2) Salem Harbor Plan, May 1999, Page 51

(3) Salem Harbor Plan, May 1999, Page 54

(4) The Salem Port Development Plan, A Plan for Development of the Designated Port Area of Salem , September 1995

(5) Salem Harbor Plan, May 1999, Page 22

 Footnote to the description Correction dated September 5, 1999. Please note that we have previously incorrectly identified the Salem Harbor Plan as being sponsored by Coastal Zone Management. It is actually a plan prepared by the City of Salem, which must be approved by the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA). Creating a harbor plan is a "voluntary procedure". Our understanding is that CZM acts as EOEA's agent with regard to approving municipal harbor plans but the ultimate authority is EOEA. For reference, see MA regulations at 301 CMR 23:00, Review and Approval of Municipal Harbor Plans (we will attempt to post this on the site as well).

A letter to the editor of the Salem Evening News appears below: (This was printed, with minor editing, in the Tuesday, August 24, 1999 edition of the Salem Evening News)

Subject: Salem Harbor Plan and Harbor Dredging Plan

With regard to David H. Smith's OpEd Salem Harbor Plan and Harbor Dredging Plan letter that was included in the Friday, August 6, 1999 edition of the Salem Evening News (page B-5), I would like to make the following observations.

1. Mr. Smith seems to be following up on his remarks made at the Wednesday, July 28, 1999 "Public Informational Meeting" held at the Salem NPS Armory Auditorium. This Informational Meeting was to discuss the Salem Harbor Dredging Plan. Mr. Smith, at that meeting, made his remarks after a long presentation made by many consultants, who described the technical issues of dredging materials from harbors near Salem, and dumping the materials in Salem Harbor.

I remember Mr. Smith saying (and I am paraphrasing his comments) that "we should all remember that the need for harbor dredging is all about the pier", and that "the only reason that dredging is being discussed is because large ships that would use it needed the extra swing space and depth of water in order to maneuver into position at the new pier."

2. I have attended many "Salem Harbor Planning Meetings" over the past two years, and have listened to the consultants speak of access to the waterfront, space for cruise boats, new uses for the waterfront and so on. I remember the first such meeting, where it was explained by the consultants that the City of Salem had requested the CZM (Coastal Zone Management) and others, to help Salem study the harbor to determine what the City wanted to have the Harbor be, and how we could all benefit from such a study. It was explained that Salem, along with a few other harbors in the State, has an area designated as a "DPA" &endash; a "Deep Port Area", in which various industrial and other uses can be conducted.

Elaborate graphics were displayed at these meetings to show the possibilities of different uses for the harbor. It is interesting to note that every plan had a large pier at the same location &endash; right next to the DPA where the power plant is located. Questions were asked by the audience as to why we were going through this elaborate exercise. The answers were not very enlightening. Questions were asked as to what a "DPA" was (answer &endash; a "Deep Port Area", that are rare in Massachusetts). Questions were also asked concerning "what type of uses could take place in the "DPA". Answer &endash; "that is an interesting question &endash; we'll get back to you on that" (never did).

I have not attended many dredging meetings, as they generally seemed to be held at times that working citizens are working (3 pm at Gloucester, and so on).

3. As time went on, more "Public Informational Sessions" for the Harbor Plan were held, and the plans never changed much. But the answers and explanation of the plan(s) were always couched in terms that I personally found disturbing. Why was the State spending such a large amount of money on a plan for Salem's Harbor? When I asked if the plan could possibly include the rumored plans to bring a part of, or all of, the oil transfer facilities now at Chelsea Creek, the consultants acted as if this was a question that had been concocted on the moon, or perhaps the planet Pluto. It was also carefully explained that the Salem Harbor Dredging Plan was an entirely separate permitting process, and there was very little discussion of this endeavor in the "Harbor" meetings. By the same token, except for Mr. Smith's (finally) true statement, one would not know that the Harbor Plan had anything to do with the dredging. In fact, the Dredging Plan seems to me to be all about the Salem Harbor Plan, and vice versa.

If there is no dredging, there is no "Plan". If there is no "Plan", there is no dredging. This Salem Harbor Plan is published, and the document was presented to the Salem City Council a few weeks ago, and the Council was asked to approve it within 10 days. Thankfully a few City Councilors were alert enough to relay to the CZM group that was the sponsor, that "thank you very much, but we need some additional time to review this document." CZM gave the council and the public until September 30, 1999, to review and comment.

4. After my continued confusion and inability to understand what the consultants were talking about in their presentations, I happened to come across some information that clears the air for me. I refer to a letter that our previous mayor sent to the Massachusetts Seaport Council on September 26, 1995. This letter conveyed Salem's request for a study and money from the Seaport Bond Bill. I quote:

"The proposed project for dredging and enlargement of the Designated Port Area and construction of a new wharf and piers offers many benefits to the City and the region. The potential for significant oil transfer facilities which this project would make possible has even more wide-ranging implications for petroleum distribution in the Commonwealth." And "…If the oil transfer facilities prove feasible, Salem could eventually handle a significant portion of the oil that now must enter Massachusetts through Chelsea Creek, relieving that congested port significantly, and providing more efficient distribution to the North Shore and even southern New Hampshire…."

I must say that I heard rumors for many years that we were going to be the recipient of the oil transfer facilities now at Chelsea Creek, but when I asked the current mayor and the just departed City Planner about this about a year ago, they both denied any knowledge of such a plan. Perhaps so, but it is evident to me that the "emperor has no clothes". We have been mislead by planners who in my opinion tried to hide the real intent of what the Salem Harbor Plan is all about. Maybe cruise ships will visit Salem, and maybe we can gain better access to the Salem waterfront at the new pier at Blaney Street, but I am not happy that the citizens were not given the opportunity to understand that the Salem Harbor Plan and Harbor Dredging Plan are one in the same, and have indeed the intent to bring an oil transfer facility to Salem. Also, I am not happy that citizens were not given the opportunity to judge for themselves whether or not the true intent of the Salem Harbor Plan and Dredging Plan is a sound and beneficial plan for the inhabitants of Salem.

I recommend that people concerned about the dredging plan (both Salem and Marblehead) pay attention to, and review, the Salem Harbor Plan, especially what appears to be an Appendix, labeled "Regulatory Environment". We have until September 30 before the Salem Harbor Plan and its recommendations about regulatory changes becomes cast in stone. Anyone with an interest in the future of the harbor should consider what action to take to make their voice heard on this important matter.

Sincerely yours,

David M. Hart






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