In a time when everywhere you look, someone or someplace is jumping on the “going green” bandwagon it never ceases to amaze me how such efforts to take big leaps forward become futile when I see a huge leap backwards in the community.

My most recent example will have to focus on the idea of re-locating the Port of Cleveland to the East 55th street area along the Lake Erie shore. At this site, not far, we have a lovely green strip of a state park—part of the Cleveland Lake-front State Park system—Gordon park—under threat from the desires of the Port of Cleveland to be re-located there from an area downtown already used and abused over the years for such seagoing trade/merchant functions that ports carry out on a regular basis. Note I say “already used and abused’”

Yes, the port is a place of concrete, docks, warehouses, and slag piles—and a host of other industrial clutter that is not on any visitors number one wish list of “must sees” when coming to Cleveland. I don’t even think the toughest weed will grow in the cracks of the concrete! Nevertheless, it serves a function no matter how large or small in the local economy, and can actually co-exist with well planned future development in the same area, that would be more visitor and resident friendly–such as parks, residential and retail development, or restoring some natural lake-front such as is the case at Wendy Park on the west side of the Cuyahoga River.

Relocating the port to Gordon Park area, however, we would see a loss of much of the green-space and natural areas that connect neighborhoods with their water-front–to be converted to the same industrial use at the current site. We will lose what little green-space we have on our lake-front, while decentralizing the port from the CBD, where most major urban activity should take place. With little space for natural lake-front settings and places to hike, bike, fish, stroll and simple relax… What “green” sense does it make to destroy that for the sake of a few benefits of the port?

The Port can remain where it is, or explore several sites up river—and still be flanked and co-exist with the kinds of development many people envision in its place should it abandon the current site. Not far from it would be the on-hold Flats East Bank Project, Wendy Park, and Flats West. The Gordon Park area is about trees and natural greenery along our lake-front. Let’s not follow the same archaic poor land use planning practices of the past and lose this emerald gem to convert it to more industrial space when we are currently under-utilizing areas already converted for such–that are much more central to downtown. Yes, locating the port to Gordon Park is a big example of taking a big step backwards in being green, an effort Cleveland is trying to achieve—at times we take little steps forward—and is not conducive to a more sustainable Cleveland and North East Ohio.

I am including below, a few articles submitted to me from an associate of mine in the advocacy for making Cleveland and North East Ohio a cleaner and greener and healthier place. The articles were submitted to a major Cleveland business magazine as well as a commentary in the Plain Dealer. You will have to click the link. In these writings, you will see detailed compelling information that helps me reaffirm my thoughts on the issue, especially how the decision to re-locate the port being totally out of proportion with following the Lake Front Plan already in the books–which is a good one, implementing green space–and making Gordon Park a big part of that green-space. These are the arguments we seldom hear at meetings–as we mostly hear the opinions of those few who have the best interests of the port in mind.

Following Letter to Crain’s Cleveland Business Magazine from Barbara Martin, chairman & Bill Gruber, vice chairman
Dike 14 Nature Preserve Committee

■ We believe that it is important to clarify a number of points set forth in the Jan. 5, Page 3 story headlined, “Port Authority’s transformation begins long before move.”

Timing: The story says it will be nearly 10 years before the Port begins its move to its proposed new site at East 55th Street and 20 years for the move to be complete. In fact, the Army Corps hopes to begin filling a new Confined Disposal Facility (CDF) at East 55th in 2015. Considering the projected CDF capacity and the Corps’ actual annual dredge amount of at most 250,000 cubic yards, it will take about 28 years ― or 34 years from now ― to complete filling all 200 acres of the proposed CDF. The first phase is likely to be filled by about 2024 ― 16 years from today. Once the filling is done, the wet dredgings must dry out and settle, a process taking several years. The infrastructure work for utilities, roads, rail connections and structures will take additional years to complete.

Fill it faster: The Port says it will try to fill the CDF faster than the normal dredge deposit process would take. But it has no agreement with the Army Corps to allow the Port to fill the federal CDFs with non-dredge fill material, and for good reason. Federal law and regulations limit what the Army Corps may use its federal funds to build and fill. The Corps needs a new CDF for its harbor dredge program to keep shipping lanes open, not to build a new Port facility. If the Port seeks to build its own facility for fill, that cost will add greatly to the already immense projected cost of its proposed move.

Cost of a new port: As the article says, the new Port could cost up to $1billion of taxpayer money. But the Army Corps will only be paying 75% of the cost to build the dike that will hold the dredge material, which is projected to cost about $200 million. So the Port will have to come up with $50 million of the dike’s cost and a total of about $750 million (not the $250 million suggested in the article).

City lakefront plan: While the Port’s plan to move to East 55th might free up the existing Port’s downtown location for private development, as intended by the city of Cleveland’s comprehensive Lakefront Plan, that move would also obliterate the remainder of the city’s plan as to the entire East Side lakefront, which Cleveland’s residents and the city’s Planning Commission concluded just a few years ago should be reserved for parks, marinas, fishing piers and public access to the lake, not replaced by a 200-acre industrial facility.

Port attempted sell-off of public trust property: The Port wants to sell its current location for private development, but neither the Port nor the city owns that land. The Port is currently situated on formerly submerged (filled) lands that Ohio’s Constitution and Supreme Court say are held in trust for the public by the state of Ohio, and may not be sold off. The land can be developed for public access or water-related commercial use under submerged lands leases issued by the state, just like the leases issued for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Great Lakes Science Center and Browns Stadium. Expensive and protracted legal fights could result if the Port tries to raise funds for its move by trying to sell off this public land to private developers.

Growth in port business: The Port claims it needs to expand from the 70 acres it currently uses on the downtown lakefront to 200 acres at East 55th because of all the container shipping that is sure to come if the new site is built. But the Port’s own study of the possibility of container shipping coming to Cleveland projects the modest amount of one ship every two weeks and cautions that container shipping here is only of a “limited potential.” And for such a limited possibility the Port wants our community to invest $1billion of its limited resources.

Barbara Martin, chairman
Bill Gruber, vice chairman
Dike 14 Nature Preserve Committee

Another Letter submitted to Crain’s Cleveland Business Magazine from Ken Vinciquerra

Dear Messrs. Dodosh, Miller and Tucker,

As a long-time subscriber of Crain’s and a concerned citizen of Cuyahoga County, I feel I must respond to the January 5, 2009 analysis “Port Authority’s transformation begins long before move.”

There were a number of ironies in that article. In one breath, Mr. Wasserman berates “people haphazardly approaching the public sector for its land,” and in the next he proposes usurping public access to precious State parkland from E 55 to E 72 and beyond for a 200-acre industrial port. In approaching the public sector for this land and seizing it, the Port hopes to have found its new home. But in the process, the proposed move of Port facilities to E 55 will destroy E 55th St. Lakefront State Park and Marina, and dramatically and negatively impact InterCity Yacht Club, Gordon Lakefront State Park, and Dike 14 Nature Preserve.

Mr. Wasserman also claims that “We think we have support from the community.”

Does he have the support of the community? During the 32-month planning process conducted just a few short years ago, Connecting Cleveland: The Waterfront District Plan (WDP) attracted more than 5,000 people to over 200 community and stakeholder meetings, large and small, and generated thousands of ideas on how to best reshape Cleveland’s Lakefront and improve access between the shoreline and the adjacent neighborhoods.

At the site of the Port Authority’s proposed 200-acre CDF/Container Cargo site, the community consensus WDP envisions:

· New land masses, not for a large, brightly lit, industrial zone, but for “water-related activities, specifically overlooks and fishing platforms, new marina, aquafilter, watercraft beach, relocated public boat launch, and fisherman’s harbor.” We’re talking same location, but two entirely different visions for our future dredged materials.

· E. 55 St. State Park and Marina expansion and enhancements

· Quay 55 residential complex expansion

· Enhancement of nearby Gordon Lakefront State Park and Dike 14 Nature Preserve

Then, last June 16, out of nowhere at just the second public meeting sponsored by the Port to share the 200-acre industrial port plan with the public, CPC Director Brown stood up at the microphone and stated that this port plan somehow fulfills the vision laid out in the Waterfront District Plan. Really?

· What happened to the “continuous green ribbon at the water’s edge”?

· What happened to expansion of the E 55th St. Lakefront State Park and Marina?

· What happened to the “new land masses that will provide opportunities for new beaches, expanded marinas, overlooks, fishing platforms, boat launches, and a fisherman’s harbor, giving the city’s residents an exciting variety of opportunities to access their waterfront?”

· What happened to the collaboration with Quay 55 ownership to expand that beautiful development into “a gateway to a new celebratory promenade at the E55th Street Bridge?”

· What happened to enhancement of Gordon State Park, “which long ago was severed in half by interstate highway infrastructure,” but which will “enjoy a renaissance under the Waterfront District Plan?”

· When was all of this abandoned, as if the (somewhat miraculous) public consensus forged by CPC had never even occurred? Who decided? Behind which closed doors was this scheme devised? Why weren’t the citizens of Cleveland and Cuyahoga Co made aware of this and involved in the process? The WDP speaks of the legacy we’ve all lived with since the severing of Gordon Park. How will our children and future generations of Clevelanders feel about this latest, and most grievous, mistake on the lake?

What could possibly be the rationale for a 180 degree about-face from the well-thought out consensus for lakefront development? Mr. Wasserman has promised jobs and economic opportunity. Your analysis states that “Mr. Wasserman said he also believes the existing docks are underused and that worldwide maritime conditions offer the opportunity to expand the port’s cargo operations immediately.”

Did the Port president also mention the long term stagnation and/or decline in business at the existing port? Did he mention that the Port-financed feasibility study itself states “While these analyzes maintain that there may be a potential from a transit time and relative cost perspective, and that diversion to a feeder service serving the Port of Cleveland at this time appears to have some merit, …there are many key issues that need to be addressed in order for successful implementation,” including but limited to “seasonality of shipping, relatively small local Cleveland market for shipped goods, and lack of growth of the Port of Halifax capacities relative to other coastal competitors.” [my emphases]

That is hardly a ringing endorsement for a proposal that will devastate the natural splendor one sees as one rounds the bend on I-90 at MLK heading west towards the city. It is also hardly a ringing endorsement for the inevitable exorbitant cost and the disregard of the voiced consensus of the tax-paying public.

To the extent that Mr. Wasserman may have some level of community support, I would simply say: It is one thing to sell a publicly financed scheme when only one side of the debate is ever presented and when opposing opinions are limited to occasional LTEs and 3 minute shots at a microphone; it is a whole other challenge to bring it before the public in an honest and open public forum for rational debate on the merits.

In the 10 months prior to his untimely death in November, Citizen Ed Hauser (the “Mayor of Whiskey Island”) was devoting all his considerable civic energies to stopping this latest insult to our shoreline (and the citizens who cherish it). Please honor his memory and the principles for which he fought, and for which many individuals continue to fight against all odds, by probing into the costs of this proposal (financial, environmental, recreational), as well as its prospects for ROI and purported benefits. This city has too long suffered from being a one-newspaper town, from having major decisions made behind closed doors, from having debate on important issues quashed. Crain’s has been a trusted and dependable source of unbiased reporting for many years, and I would encourage you not only to continue to follow this story very closely, but to initiate dialog and honest debate about its costs and realistic benefits.

As always, keep up the fine work informing Northeast Ohioans of the business of Cleveland. I look forward each day to the appearance of “Today’s Headlines and Blogs”, “This Week’s Issue”, and “The Morning Roundup” in my Inbox!

Ken Vinciquerra
Cleveland Hts, OH
January 20, 2009

Finally, here is a letter submitted to the Cleveland Plain Dealer commentary section:

Cuyahoga County port’s relocation proposal has serious flaws

Sunday, January 25, 2009
Dominic A. LoGalbo

Recently, on these pages, Michael Wagar, the out going chairman of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, championed a vision of a new, 200-acre port he claims would be the catalyst for some 50,000 jobs, signaling an economic rebirth for the region. In a city struggling to attain a renaissance on so many levels, the message held out much needed hope. I believe, however, Wagar’s projections should be taken with a dash of reality, for the plan may be more of a mirage than a manifestation of economic prosperity.

To appreciate the potential folly of this project, one needs to consider the process that led to its birth and the arrogant manner in which it has been presented to a public that is expected to pay for it without questioning its feasibility.

I have spent a lifetime of involvement with the lakefront, first managing Dock 20 for the Cleveland Stevedore Co., and later representing eight international steamship lines for F.C MacFarlane Steamship Co.

My experience on the waterfront made me aware of the need for better planning if the city was ever to enjoy the acclaim and prosperity a beautiful shoreline would bring Cleveland. That planning seemed to take shape during Mayor Jane Campbell’s administration.

Like many others, I attended scores of meetings designed to draw ideas from the public and piece them into a master plan. Considerable time and money went into what would finally emerge after 200 meetings as the 2004 Lakefront District Plan.

The remarkable thing about the plan was its consensus. In a city known for its contentious nature, virtually every business, civic and political entity endorsed the plan. In all probability, it was the most extensive study of the lakefront since Cleveland emerged from the wilderness in the 18th century.

Then, in an astonishing move, made without public explanation or input, the plan was cast aside. It was replaced by a hastily conceived idea promising to be the largest public works project in the city’s history, costing upwards of a billion dollars and adding a new ribbon of industrial clutter to the shoreline.

At the meeting at which it was introduced a year ago, port officials explicitly stated that the public could not question officials about the plan. Since then, very little has been revealed about its progress.

The plan coincided with the arrival of Adam Wasserman in 2007 as president of the port authority and was based on two sketchy studies by consultants without even a façade of public debate. One of the port’s own studies concluded that the Wasserman plan was virtually a roll of the dice.

Even more alarming than the further marring of the shoreline’s aesthetic was the lack of economic data supporting such a costly endeavor. There was no projected return on investment on such a massive expenditure of public money.

Compare that cost to the fact that – in a good year – the port makes only about $1 million annually from maritime use and recently has lost money in its operations. While the port claims to have created thousands of jobs through its efforts, studies find only a few thousand that can be associated with its maritime endeavors.

At the crux of Wasserman’s plan is the establishment of a new port that would handle such substantial container business that it would create an economic development zone adjacent to it that would ultimately create 50,000 jobs. This would be achieved in 20 years.

Today, the Port of Toledo is in a position to handle all the container business available. But very little of this business exists, and there is little likelihood of any significant increase.

The shipping business as a whole has fallen off here over the years. When I first started at the port in the 1960s, there were 21 steamship companies operating here, and the Port of New York maintained offices in the Terminal Tower. These companies are long gone.

The loss of so much manufacturing in Ohio has had a serious effect on the port.

Ships entering the Great Lakes from the St. Lawrence Seaway prefer not only to deliver cargo but to pick it up as well, but there is little to export here.

Currently, rail and truck transport is favored by the container industry. No better example can be found than in Maple Heights where the Norfolk and Southern Railroad maintains a container facility. Each day some 1,400 containers pass through the facility, about 900 by truck and the rest by rail.

The likelihood of Norfolk and Southern relocating its transportation hub to a downtown site is remote, and there is no dramatic increase in Great Lakes shipping anticipated in the future.

In addition, the shipping season usually runs from April to late October, which means the port is idle for five months, hardly an encouraging factor for such a staggering investment.

The concerns around this project are legion and include environmental and recreational issues as well as the quality of life available on our waterfront. The port needs to conceive a realistic facility as was presented in the 2004 Lakefront District plan.

LoGalbo studied transportation at John Carroll University and served with the U.S. Army Transportation Corps. He was the first commodore of the E. 55th Street Marina.

Posted by Angry Man In The Basement at 4:50 PM

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