July 17, 2008

Boat Ramp Repair Has Parking String Attached

By Michael Farrell, Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.

Jul. 17--MANCHESTER -- Beside the Town Hall there is an infamous ramp.

Manchester boaters know to avoid it at low tide because there is a giant pit at the bottom that can damage their trailers. Now, plans are in the works, however, that may take away the ramp's bite.

The Massachusetts Office of Fishing and Boating Access (FBA) has proposed completely rebuilding the ramp at the state's expense and taking over its maintenance. But there is a catch -- to follow that course, Manchester would have to carve out dedicated parking spaces for boaters in the Town Hall parking lot.

Earlier this year, Selectman Bryan Gubbins and Public Works Director Steven Kenney met with FBA officials to discuss the possibility of receiving money to repair the troublesome ramp. The estimated repair cost given in Gubbins' report to selectmen during their June meeting was between $500,000 and $750,000.

The state is willing to approve the project -- but on the condition that Manchester provide an undetermined number of parking spaces for nonresident as well as resident boaters' vehicles and their trailers. Whatever the number of spaces, parking in the Town Hall lot where the ramp is located is at a premium.

There are approximately 110 spaces in the lot and, according to Town Administrator Wayne Melville, they are used by myriad groups.

Not only is the parking lot used by Town Hall employees and visitors to Manchester, it is also used by the bordering Masonic Lodge, First Parish Congregational Church, the American Legion and employees of Central Street businesses across from the lot.

Additionally, it is an important lot for residential parking. Many downtown Manchester residents do not have driveways. And on some streets, such as Union Street, they are not allowed to park at the curb. Moreover, residents cannot park on the sides of any street during winter parking bans. As a result, many residents park in the Town Hall's lot.

"The pressure on this lot is staggering," Melville said.

What is more, because the ramp would become the state's responsibility, the town would be unable to limit boater parking to Manchester residents.

Compromises or not, few disagree that the ramp is in dire need of repairs.

"I think that the one piece of advice that we don't need from the harbormaster is that the ramp is in bad shape," said Selectman Lee Spence at the June selectmen's meeting.

"I saw it at dead-low tide last night," Selectman Tom Kehoe said at a town board meeting last week. "It was atrocious."

There was no question in Melville's mind that the current state of the ramp is due to natural environmental degradation and not a lack of proper maintenance on the part of the Manchester Department of Public Works.

"It's obviously outlived its useful life," he said.

At high tide the ramp only looks a little cracked but when the tide goes down a craggy, gravel strewn pit emerges from the water. And if a person tries to place their boat in the water at low tide they risk damaging their trailer.

According to Melville, most Manchester boaters are aware of this. Savvy people that boaters are, he said, they launch from the ramp at high tide. Every once in a while, though, a new boater comes into town who misses the warning from their peers and damages a trailer.

The upside, though, said Melville, is that the FBA wants to fix the ramp and they have the money to do it -- and there may be an additional perk.

When Melville was working for the town of Harwich 35 years ago, he said that the town made use of this program with the FBA. When the ramp in Harwich was repaired, the ramp parking lot was also completely repaved.

However, Melville said, Harwich had the parking space and they are a city that embraces tourism. Manchester, on the other hand, he said, is already too crowded and is not as open to tourism as Harwich.

The opportunity for free repairs, though, is hard to turn down.

"If there are funds set aside for this and we qualify," said Selectmen Chairwoman Sue Thorne, "I think we need to look at it seriously and have it become a reality."

In order to work out a compromise and get this project moving, Thorne said that the selectmen hope to have a meeting with the FBA to discuss it.

Michael Farrell can be reached at [email protected]


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