Report: Boston-Area Working Ports at Tipping Point, Primed for Innovation

New Boston Harbor Now analysis highlights need for thoughtful, resilient planning in region’s Designated Port Areas

BOSTON (January 24, 2018) – More than a quarter of Greater Boston’s Designated Port Areas (DPAs) – waterfront spaces zoned for maritime industrial uses such as fuel terminals, salt storage and international shipping – are vacant or being used for more immediately-profitable commercial and other activities that don’t require access to the water, according to a report released today by Boston Harbor Now. Certain DPAs within Boston’s Inner Harbor are seeing maritime use rates well below 50 percent. The data suggests that as market demand for waterfront land continues to increase, it will be more challenging to maintain a diverse mix of Harbor uses, raising the question of how the region should plan for and invest in these limited spaces.

The clean-up of Boston Harbor, as well as local and global economic forces, have led to a significant increase in the value of waterfront property, including maritime industrial areas. Waterfront condos and offices are setting record-breaking prices, and in this changing landscape, more land set aside to support the state’s port economy as part of the Massachusetts 1978 Designated Port Area Program is being pursued for parks, housing, and other uses.

While highly valuable due to Boston’s building boom, DPAs also face disproportionate risks from climate change, underscoring the need for resiliency to be incorporated in all DPA planning. Corollary research included in the report indicates a majority of DPA sites in Boston Harbor are within the predicted flood zone for 2100, and factors including the presence of chemicals, poor infrastructure, and lack of coastal resilience planning for working port sites create unique vulnerabilities.

“We are at a critical moment for land reserved for marine industrial use, with the potential for market forces and environmental pressures to totally reshape our ports,” said Kathy Abbott, President and CEO of Boston Harbor Now. “While our ports can and should absorb a mix of maritime, commercial, and open space activities, a healthy harbor is a harbor of balanced uses. Without thoughtful and creative planning that builds upon the significant investments made over the past 40 years, we risk permanently quashing our maritime industrial ecosystem.”

“Revitalizing the working Port of Boston and keeping it competitive is an essential part of our mission,” said Massport CEO Thomas P. Glynn. “We have seen significant growth across many sectors of the Maritime economy including container, cruise, seafood and the Autoport. This is a critical conversation for industry leaders to be having as we plan for the future amidst a growing demand for waterfront property in the Seaport. We’re looking forward to a vibrant discussion and thank Boston Harbor Now for bringing this symposium together.”

“Boston’s working ports are a valuable part of our city and are at increased risk from climate change impacts,” said Austin Blackmon, the City of Boston’s Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space. “It’s more important than ever to work together to make sure Boston is ready for the changes ahead.”

Boston’s working ports provide key benefits to the region, including by supporting 7,000 jobs directly and 50,000 indirectly and 1,600 businesses either importing or exporting goods. Boston Harbor’s liquid natural gas terminal supplies an estimated 11 percent of New England’s natural gas. Chelsea Produce Market, the largest privately-owned terminal market in the country, distributes wholesale foods to over 8 million people as far south as Connecticut and as far north as Canada. Boston’s Fish Pier is the oldest continuously operating seafood processing facility in the US, and 14 million pounds of seafood is unloaded in the Port of Boston annually.

In 1996, Massport and the City of Boston developed the Port of Boston Economic Development Plan: A Call to Action. The plan led to a number of successful DPA and maritime industry implementation efforts including harbor dredging, creating the Boston Autoport, improving Conley Terminal, expanding cruise ship activity, and creating the Harborwalk and the seafood cluster.

 Other ideas from the plan have not yet come to fruition, such as expanding Boston Harbor’s water transportation network and creating aquaculture reserve zones or establishing an East Boston Maritime District and a fresh seafood market on the Boston Fish Pier. Boston Harbor Now report researchers interviewed 42 international, regional and local harbor stakeholders, who offered additional ideas for consideration to innovate regional DPAs, including developing a marine technology innovation cluster to concentrate and synthesize the nearly $165 million the state spends on oceanographic research and development (R&D) each year.

The report kicks off Boston Harbor Now’s Working Port: A 21st Century Harbor Symposium, a two-day conference of waterfront stakeholders and community members that will set the stage for an informed discussion of how Boston Harbor’s working port can continue to make significant contributions to our regional economy. More information on the symposium is available here.