State Considers $100 Million Proposal for Port Development

Salem, New Bedford and Somerset ports vie for funding to redevelop ports for off shore wind industry

On September 9, the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Ways and Means took up House Bill 3922, a proposal on how to disburse federal funding allocated to Massachusetts through the American Rescue Plan. Governor Baker proposed that $100 million of the funding go to port redevelopment in three communities: Salem, New Bedford, and Somerset.

SAFE testified in support of allocating a substantial portion of the port redevelopment funds to Salem, in order to expand the state’s investment in off-shore wind beyond New Bedford. The Salem port has been identified by the off-shore wind industry as particularly well situated for their needs.

Salem Alliance for the Environment (SAFE) fully supports the proposed $100 million funding for port infrastructure improvements in Salem, Somerset, and New Bedford. Previously, the Commonwealth supported New Bedford in building the Marine Commerce Terminal. We applauded this action taken under the leadership of Gov. Deval Patrick. Now, Salem’s hour has arrived. Salem’s Designated Port Area, with its excellent deep water and no overhead obstructions, is the best port available to move Massachusetts to the head of the pack among the states vying for leadership in this new era of renewable energy. The ARPA funding is vital to making that vision a reality.

As an environmental justice (EJ) city, Salem—and the other North Shore EJ communities–need the good paying union jobs that will come with OSW development.

Salem, a Gateway City hard hit by COVID-19, needs support to improve the infrastructure of its aging port. With the infusion of funding Salem will be well positioned to support the offshore wind (OSW) industry as it develops on the South Coast and as it begins development north of us in the Gulf of Maine. Salem can be a very valuable port for OSW marshalling as well as operations and maintenance for decades to come.

As an environmental justice (EJ) city, Salem—and the other North Shore EJ communities–need the good paying union jobs that will come with OSW development. These jobs will sustain our families, restore the economic vibrancy of our city and region, and help to stabilize Salem’s tax base.

Environmental advocacy groups, environmental justice groups, neighborhood organizations, and educational institutions are actively supporting the OSW industry for Salem. Unlike other communities that are resisting OSW, Salem is actively involved in attempting to attract the OSW industry.

We hope that you will pass the ARPA bill in total but, if not, at least carve out of the bill the $100 million port infrastructure support for Salem, Somerset, and New Bedford and move quickly to deliver it to our cities, which are ideally situated to support the OSW industry. Funding infrastructure support for the Port of Salem will be doing what ARPA funds were intended to do.

Mayor Driscoll submitted testimony on the City’s behalf as well. She spoked to several issues–housing, climate, and tourism. Below we have excerpted the portion of the Mayor’s testimony concerning the role Salem could play in developing a vibrant off-shore wind industry for the region.

While Salem is often noted in history books for the Witch Trials that took place here in 1692, our true prominence is tied to the ocean and Salem’s Great Age of Sail when courageous sea captains sailed small clipper ships around the globe to the far east. They brought back exotic and profitable goods and turned Salem into a major commerce center, with a port larger than Boston’s that brought wealth and prominence to our City. We have an opportunity once again to use the sea to sow our fortunes in a way that is good for the planet and our local economy.

Our deep-water port adjacent to the Salem Harbor Powerplant has a number of natural attributes that make it an attractive site for the development of the offshore wind industry in Massachusetts. An offshore wind developer recently described the waters off the northeast as ‘the Saudi Arabia of off shore wind’. Salem and Massachusetts are poised to play a major role in attracting and retaining this much needed clean energy industry. With approximately 44 acres of vacant land, directly off the federal channel with no overhead restrictions, Salem Wharf, which was used for decades to bring coal to the city and more recently to bring cruise ships to Salem, it is also in play to support offshore wind marshalling, operation and maintenance and/or manufacturing. The City has formed a partnership with the state aimed at supporting the development of OSW utilization at this site as a way to provide the renewable energy we need to address our climate change goals.

In doing so, we can also help build out a stronger and more equitable economy in Salem and the North Shore. With three gateway cities in the region (Salem, Lynn and Peabody), we know that having strong port amenities to support off-shore wind can help put people to work in short and long-term jobs – from port construction, off shore wind assembly and maintenance, marine technology, engineering and testing – there is no shortage of opportunities to bring green jobs to the North Shore and position Massachusetts to have both New Bedford and Somerset on the South Shore and Salem on the North Shore as key ports as we compete with other New England and Northeast states for this lucrative and much needed new clean energy sector growth. If the country was developed from west to east – all of New England would be one state. Since that is not the case, we know that our neighboring states (in particular New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) are all working hard to woo this industry to build out facilities within their borders. The costs and engineering that goes into these facilities is extraordinary and requires a true public-private partnership to be successful.

Our port stands ready to play a pivotal role – as we did in the 17th century – but we need state funding to build out the port infrastructure, implement the workforce training necessary to get ready to harness the wind, and put Massachusetts on the map as a leader in this new U.S. energy industry. We have the natural amenities, however offshore wind projects are complex, expensive and permitting is never easy or assured. We know the science and engineering work – the Europeans have proven that – now we need funding to build out the physical and employee infrastructure, and we need to do it now. This is another case of using funding now to support upgrades to ports will help position the Commonwealth to attract federal funding and industry partnerships to demonstrate our statewide commitment to ensuring this industry grows and thrives and that it does so here in Salem, the North Shore, the South Shore and in Massachusetts.