As MassPort Boss Reminds Us, Boston Wouldn't Be The Hub without Fishing, Seafood

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tom Glynn was careful to describe Boston’s hottest new neighborhood as the South Boston Waterfront at the outset of an op-ed piece he wrote for the Boston Globe the other day.  You would expect nothing different from the CEO of the politically-attuned Massachusetts Port Authority.  From Glynn there will be no harping on the “Seaport District.”   (Why send all who call Southie their hometown into paroxysms of pain and anger?)

Anyway, it was a heck of a piece, that column by Glynn, which appeared Sunday, Aug. 23, under the headline, “Boston’s future depends on a thriving seafood industry,” for it contained a much-needed reminder that new apartment buildings, new office towers, and trendy new bars and restaurants are not the only key ingredients for a city striving for vibrancy in the 21st century.
“Long before the biotech firms, cool restaurants, and law firms made a home there (the South Boston Waterfront), seafood companies were doing business in that part of town. It is important that there be room for the industry going forward,” wrote Glynn, a Ph.D. from Brandeis, a former general manager of the MBTA in the Governor Dukakis administration, a former President Clinton administration labor official, and a former chief operating officer of Partners Health Care.  (If you can find a better resume, blog it.)

The only state where the value of caught fish exceeds that of Massachusetts is Alaska, Glynn pointed out. 
While the catches in New Bedford and Gloucester consistently exceed Boston’s, Glynn trumpeted the “rare ingredients” that position Boston as an “epicenter of the state’s seafood processing industry.” Those would be its “dockside access to fishing boats and seafood processors, an international airport, the interstate highway system, and a global shipping container facility.”

The annual Port of Boston fish catches have grown – “despite federal policy restrictions” -- by 80% in recent years, according to Glynn; and, today, some 58 seafood businesses are located within a 1.25-mile radius of South Boston.
As one who performs work for a great Massachusetts-based non-profit, Fishing Partnership Support Services, a kind of human resources agency for commercial fishermen, I was nodding vigorously as Glynn informed Globe readers that:

(a) the Boston Fish Pier remains the very active home of the city’s working fishing fleet, with 21 vessels currently berthed there, and
(b) six fishing boat owners/operators have their names on the waiting list for a Boston Fish Pier berth. 

Commercial fishing is far from dead in Boston and the other ports of the Bay State, although fishermen are, for the most part, experiencing hard times because of federal limits on days they can fish, competition from cheaper, less-regulated imported seafood, the high fixed costs of owning and running a fishing boat, (fuel, maintenance, repairs, insurance, etc.), and the high cost of living in Massachusetts.
If we want to keep a homegrown fishing industry, a distinctive feature of Massachusetts since the 17th century, and if we want local, independent fishermen catching local fish 10 or 20 years from now, we have to adhere to policies that help the commercial fishermen of Massachusetts and their families.

If you haven’t read Tom Glynn’s “Boston’s-future-depends” column, please do so.  It may be found at:

…and for information on Fishing Partnership Support Services, please go to:


Wynn Everett's Environmental Virtues Are Yin to the Yang of Casino Profits

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The site in Everett where Steve Wynn wants to build a resort/destination casino at a cost of more than a billion dollars has got to be the most run-down, contaminated, crummy looking oceanfront property in Greater Boston.  I speak as a witness.

It was a warm and humid summer day three years ago when I walked the entire site with a group that was thinking of putting a casino there before Wynn came along.  “My” group saw the potential in the site and was briefly intrigued with the idea of having the "Boston casino" in Everett, but it never actually took the proposal beyond the brainstorming stage.  This theme recurs often in my life:  I get the dreamers; other consultants get the guys itching to drop a billion-plus on a deal.
Anyway, the property on the Mystic River where a Monsanto chemical factory once stood, and where Wynn envisages a casino, is covered with fill -- a mixture of dirt, gravel, broken bricks and stones, and God knows what else, which was used to encase and smooth the land when the factory was demolished.  Some tall weeds have sprouted there but do not seem to be thriving as they do in most vacant lots. These weeds actually look malnourished. 

The property comprises 33 acres.  One acre equals roughly three-quarters of a football field.  So imagine 24 to 25 football fields of sheer ugliness standing in the shadow of a power plant and a terminally congested Sullivan Square.

Then visualize that property ending at a deserted, pollution-bombarded shoreline -- a place of rotting piles, broken concrete slabs from vanished buildings, crumbling revetments, and unidentifiable debris exposed in the black, oily muck of the outgone tide.   I’m surprised the Massachusetts Film Bureau hasn’t used this place as a permanent set for horror movies.

So give Steve Wynn credit.  He’s willing to spend tens of millions of dollars to decontaminate the site so that it's suitable for building upon and occupying.  And he’s willing to spare no cost to build what he vows will be a five-star hotel and a spectacular, self-contained mini-world, a Vegas-on-the-Mystic, a pleasure dome shamelessly dedicated to round-the-clock wining, dining, shopping and entertainment.
Monsanto closed up shop in Everett over 20 ago. No one, with the exception of Mr. Wynn, has come along since who has the resources, the vision and the willingness to redevelop the site.  The City of Everett has naturally embraced the man, his Revere roots notwithstanding.

Wynn knows environmental remediation is his strong suit in this nerve-ripping, high-stakes game of licensing Massachusetts’s first casino.  He seems to delight in pulling a new “environmental ace” from his sleeve every few days. 
On August 13, there was the announcement that the project, officially dubbed Wynn Everett, will include “a public harbor walk for pedestrians and bicycles that will extend the length of the resort’s shoreline and connect to a park.”

Robert DeSalvio, president of Wynn Everett, said, “We envision our harbor walk to be brimming with activity day and night, year round, both from a recreational and transportation perspective. Connecting (the new harbor walk) to the (existing) Gateway Center Park means more people can enjoy the Mystic River and access our resort without having to drive here by car.  It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to unlock a beautiful urban waterfront that very few people today know exists.”
On August 19, there was the announcement that Wynn Everett “will exceed state regulatory requirements for environmental sustainability and feature advanced green initiatives, including the use of solar power and rainwater harvesting.”

Said DeSalvio: “The $30-million waterfront site cleanup and transformation (of the former Monsanto site) will have an historic impact on the entire region…The Wynn Resort in Everett will be a model of sustainability and energy efficiency when we begin our day-to-day operations.  It will bring to life Wynn’s deeply rooted principal of being an environmentally conscious and responsible leader in every community that we’re part of.”
Wynn’s long-range plan, I have learned, now extends beyond the casino site proper.  Sources in Everett say that a Wynn representative recently approached the operators of the Mystic Station power plant, which is located directly across busy Route 99 (Broadway) from the casino site, to explore the possibility of acquiring and demolishing three old and disused components of the facility (Mystic 4, 5 and 6) and of building a parking garage for casino patrons in their places.  The plan includes a pedestrian walkway spanning Route 99, garage to casino.

If the final license for Wynn Everett is granted, and if Winn ever gets to replace a part of the Mystic Station with an environmentally friendly and visually unobjectionable parking garage, the entire appearance of that industry-heavy part of Everett would change for the better, and dramatically so.  It would be so good that the people of Charlestown and Somerville, though they might remain opposed to the casino, would like the new look of things from across the river despite themselves.


Westfield's Three-Branch Pierce Begins Sunset Ride with Blessing from Supremes

Friday, August 14, 2015

If you held a high position in the judiciary and were doing a bad job, I don’t think the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court would issue a press release saying good things about you when you filed for retirement.

No, in that situation, the members of our state’s highest court would likely sigh with relief and begin the task of erasing you from their memories.  In the hallowed halls of the Adams Courthouse, the least said about a bust-out judge the better.
One may thus infer that the soon-to-be-retired chief justice of the Massachusetts Housing Court, the honorable Steven D. Pierce of Westfield, is the genuine article.  Else, why would we have the July 7, 2015, SJC press release with Paula M. Carey averring that Pierce “was an early proponent of management reforms that have increased accountability and transparency across the court system” and that “his leadership of the Trial Court’s Fiscal Task Force was key to our efforts to avoid layoffs through the fiscal crisis”?  Carey’s the chief justice of the Massachusetts Trial Court.

And why would we have Harry Spence noting in that same release that the Housing Court, under Pierce, is now “more widely recognized for the importance of its expertise and resources, such as housing court specialists who mediate cases, saving time and expense of litigation”? 
Spence, currently serving as administrator of the Trial Court, has been handed the task of repairing a damaged and/or disgraced entity of state and local government on several difficult occasions.  Think Chelsea, post-bankruptcy.  Being on the hard-nosed end of the political spectrum, he’s not one for easy or shallow compliments.

I thought it perhaps significant that the release on Pierce’s retirement was issued almost three full months prior his official retirement date of September 30, as if it were purposely setting the stage for a long, slow victory lap by the outgoing chief justice.
Pierce, who will turn 66 right after he retires, owns the distinction of having served in all three branches of state government, first the legislature, then in two gubernatorial administrations, and finally in the court system.  He also was once a serious candidate for the Republican nomination for governor and once came very close to winning a Congressional seat.

A Republican and a graduate of Duke University School of Law, Pierce was first elected to the Massachusetts House in 1978.  Within five years, he was the House Minority Whip, and, four years after that, in 1987, was elected Minority Leader.
In 1990, Pierce was a strong early entrant in the Republican primary election for governor, but couldn’t sustain his initial burst and wound up losing decisively to Bill Weld, who went on to defeat Boston University President John Silber in the November final and win re-election four years later against Democratic representative Mark Roosevelt.

Weld appointed Pierce to his first cabinet as Secretary of Communities and Development.  This proved to be only a way stop:  Silvio Conte, the long-time Republican incumbent in the old 1st Massachusetts District, died in 1991 and Pierce resigned to pursue the congressional prize.
Pierce won his party’s primary and faced off against Amherst State Senator John W. Olver in the final.  It was a heck of a fight.  Olver emerged victorious by a margin of only 1,934 votes.  Had Pierce managed to flip just 968 of those voters, he’d have gone to Washington and likely stayed there for years, as had Conte and as did Olver.

Pierce was back in state government by 1993 as a senior advisor to Governor Weld.  One year later, Weld appointed him executive director of the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, where he remained until 2001, when Acting Governor Jane Swift, a fellow denizen of Western Massachusetts, appointed him her chief legal counsel. 
Before leaving office at the end of 2002, Swift appointed Pierce as a justice of the Housing Court.  Governor Mitt Romney named Pierce the court’s chief justice in 2006; Governor Deval Patrick appointed him to a second five-year term in 2011.  The Housing Court Department is comprised of five divisions and has 10 authorized judicial positions across the state.

The (Springfield) Republican observed, correctly, in 2010 that “Few people have seen all sides of state government and worked in so many key positions as Pierce.”
I happened to have the chance yesterday to ask someone who served in the House at the same time Pierce did if he thought Pierce was really good or really lucky.  Without a moment’s hesitation, this gentleman said, “Good!  Steve had a good way about him.  He was good with people, good on the issues.  I don’t know how else to say it: he just had a really good way about him.  It showed in everything he did.  People genuinely liked him.”

I guess you can file the Steve Pierce story, then, under “Good guys finish first.”





An Outside-the-Box Thought on Proposals to Tax Vacation Home Rentals

Monday, August 10, 2015

Thirty-two or thirty-three years ago, I can’t remember exactly, friends of ours bought a second home on Cape Cod, in the town of Dennis.  It was an older, kind-of-smallish home, nothing fancy, and just a short walk from the beach.  They paid $39,000 for it. 

If that house were sold today, it would probably go for eight or nine times that price.
Around the time our friends bought into Dennis, my wife and I had been renting a cottage in Chatham for three weeks every July with my sister-in-law and her husband.  We must have done that for four or five years straight.  The house was on Sea Shell Lane, a narrow dirt road leading down a steep hill to the beach.  We paid the owner, a couple from Wrentham we never met, $350 a week.

I don’t know what it would cost to rent a place in that neighborhood today but it would probably be in the vicinity of $2,000 a week, maybe more depending on the house.
A couple of weeks ago, I drove over from Harwich, where my sister-in-law now owns a house, to take a look at Sea Shell Lane, as I often do when I’m on the Cape.  I like to call up the memories of when my wife and I were young, our children were little, and we were totally happy, together, by the ocean during the ripest part of summer.  It was not unusual in those days for me to go hunting for pennies to roll up so I’d have enough to buy a six-pack of Schlitz.

I have to use my imagination now to see the cottage as it was in those days. Twenty years ago, it was sold to a family that immediately enlarged it and turned it into the kind of fancy beach house that could be featured in the Sunday newspaper magazines. 
They don’t build little cottages on Cape Cod any more.

What Cape Cod has, everybody wants.  Countless souls dream of a home on the ocean, near the ocean, or tucked in a grove of pines and oaks next to one of those fresh-water kettle ponds that formed on the Cape when a monstrous block of ice melted 10,000 years ago.  There is not enough of Cape Cod to go around for all who want to own or rent a piece of it.  So the cost of being there keeps going up.  The contractors who build and repair and remodel homes, and the realtors who sell them, are always busy.  A guy in a pick-up who’s good with his hands gets his price there.
To know Cape Cod is to understand not only how precious it is but also how fragile.  It is one long, curving, immense deposit of sand -- a peninsula built from glacial run-off as the ice sheets covering this part of North America disappeared in the slow, pre-historical warming of our planet.  In many places, the Cape is covered by a thin layer of topsoil, which supports a handsome-but-hardly-robust tree cover.  Its edges are mostly exposed dune.

Even when the sea is relatively calm, it chews on those beaches, nowhere more relentlessly than on the outer Cape, the far, eastern wall of it that runs from Chatham up to Provincetown.  One loves the Cape more because its splendor is ever under threat.
A narrow arm of sand containing one aquifer of fresh water is not the most hospitable place to build a bunch of towns and to pack those towns every summer with hundreds of thousands of super-consumers who drive big boats and big cars, who need to live in houses with two (or three!) full baths, who must have access to supermarkets, pharmacies, restaurants and liquor marts, and who panic when the trash haulers fail to make their second weekly pick-up.  Where super-consumers gather, super-trash results.  

Local officials have to worry about funding all of the infrastructure and services needed to sustain Cape Cod’s growing population and popularity.  They need more money every year to protect the resources essential both to human habitation, such as fresh water, and to the unique appeal of the Cape, such as open spaces and clean beaches.
It’s no surprise that many of those officials now want the authority to collect taxes from owners who rent their homes to vacationers.  Two bills are pending in the Massachusetts legislature that would give towns on Cape Cod and the Islands (Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket) the option of levying a new tax on summer rentals.  Town managers and select persons from Sandwich to Edgartown and from Yarmouth to Wellfleet feel they really need a new, substantial source of money.

How substantial?  No one knows for sure because there’s no system in place to track summer rentals across the region.  A study commissioned last year by the Island Housing Trust on Martha’s Vineyard found that between 20% and 25% of homes on the island are rented at some point in the year, and that a 5% tax on those rentals would generate as much as $6.3 million per year if both summer and off-season rentals were taxed.
A long-time innkeeper on the island was quoted in a recent article in the Martha’s Vineyard Times as saying, “I don’t think someone renting a place for $5,000 a week is going to balk at $250 (in new rental taxes).”  No doubt that gentleman is correct.

My wife and I just spent a significant amount to rent a four-bedroom house in Harwich for two weeks so that our entire family, which includes six grandchildren, could collectively enjoy a vacation.  The price was worth it: we had an incredibly good time from start to finish. 
If, next year, we have the money to rent that house again and Harwich has the newfound ability to hit us with a tax equal to 5% of the rent, we’d probably do it again.  I wouldn’t be happy with the tax because it has the feel of a money grab: townies squeezing outsiders because outsiders have the dough, townies want it, and townies can take it.  But I’d pay because it’s just so good to be on Cape Cod in July.  There’s nothing I know that can compare to it. I do, however, have one suggestion for the leaders of a Cape Cod that is increasingly taking on the look and feel of a rich man’s preserve:
When you start collecting that 5% or 6%, or whatever it will be, on every rental, and when the money starts piling up in those new rental tax accounts, please give some thought to creating with that money colonies of little, old-fashioned summer cottages all over the Cape and the islands, and to renting those cottages cheaply to low- and moderate-income families from Massachusetts, folks from Boston, Everett, Brockton and the like.

I even have a suggestion on where one of those colonies might go: Morris Island, in Chatham.  The miles of beaches on Morris Island are public, while the interior of the island is privately owned and taken up with estates owned by millionaires.  There’s a de facto limit on access to Morris Island’s beautiful shoreline via the small number of public parking spaces near the trails leading to the beaches, a common tactic in ocean communities.

After a few years of collecting rental taxes, Chatham could buy one of those Morris Island properties, take down the Architectural Digest-worthy behemoth that stands there, and replace it with 10 or 12 little cottages.  It would not be hard to find families that have never experienced Cape Cod and are eager to spend a week in one those new bungalows by the sea.
It is in our nation’s interest, I would argue, to have every child swim in the ocean, play on a beach, and breathe the salt air, night and day, at some point in their early years.  The ocean is the last wild and changeless thing most of us will ever be able to touch.  Something indefinably good happens when a person immerses himself in earth’s eternal waters.

We are the Bay State.  We should be as willing to spend tax dollars to assure that every child in Massachusetts can experience living by the sea at least once as we are to spend it on the conventional aspects of their education.

UPDATE: In March of 2016, the legislature's Joint Committee on Revenue gave a favorable report to House Bill 2645, An Act Providing for Local Aid Enhancement, which proposed to give the state and its municipalities the authority to collect taxes of 5% and 6%, respectively, on vacation home rental proceeds.  The bill was subsequently referred to the House Committee on Ways & Means, where it died on July 31, 2016, upon the adjournment of the 2015-16 legislative session.












Globe Retrospectives on Demise of Olympic Bid Reach Opposite Conclusions

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

If you're the one deciding the contents of a newspaper, you get to have it both ways.  Case in point: two recent Boston Globe pieces on the ill-fated attempt to bring the Olympic Games to Boston in 2024.

Business reporter Jon Chesto wrote the first one, “After Olympics bid, John Fish is down but hardly out,” (Friday, July 31); columnist Joan Vennochi wrote the second, “Say farewell to old Boston,” (Sunday, August 2).
With the demise of the Olympic bid, Chesto said, “Boston’s business community was left wondering whether the 55-year-old construction magnate (Fish) will remain a key power broker” in town.  He answered that question in the next breath.

“All signs point to yes,” said Chesto.
Fish was the mainspring of the committee advocating for a Boston Olympics for most of the committee’s existence.

“Power shifted from old (Boston) to new the day a band of insurgents blocked the go-for-gold dreams of the city’s elite,” Vennochi observed. 
She added, with relish, “It’s about time.”

The Olympic organizing committee, as she sees it, was “old Boston to its core” -- a collection of out-of-touch “developers, well-connected PR consultants, and business boosters” who had their heads handed to them by a “low-budget coalition of new Boston activists.”

Describing how Fish had to quit the helm of  the organizing committee this past spring as the group came under increasing criticism and pressure, Venocchi said Fish was a man “cast aside, a “man without a mayor.”
Chesto described the same turn of events but said, “Fish has showed no signs of slowing down in many of his other civic efforts.” 

Fish, Chesto pointed out, is “still chairman of the Scholar Athletes charity and Boston College’s board of trustees, and he’ll be named chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s board in November.”
Vennochi knows a lot more about this stuff than I do.  Her power shift thesis could prove prescient.Right now, it feels glib.

Say farewell to John Fish & Friends all you want.  Don’t be surprised when they don’t go anywhere.