Marine Life in Boston – See how Pier 5 will Contribute

Marine Life in Boston – See how Pier 5 will Contribute

Christopher Nicodemus

Charlestown, MA

Tidal Wetlands and the Value of Pier 5 to the Community and our Harbor

When I came to school in Boston in the 1970’s, Boston Harbor was renowned as one of the nation’s dirtiest harbors. While my classmates and I would occasionally visit the difficult to access waterfront, one hoped there was an off shore breeze at the time  to keep the odors away and abandoned piers were the predominant image.

Pier 5 in the Charlestown Navy Yard is different from most of the waterfront piers. It was re-constructed during the heroic war effort in World war II to bear the weight of ships placed on its surface. Rather than using creosote laden preserved and toxic piles, it was constructed with concrete and steel with piles placed at high density. 

Pier 5 extension and rebuilding during WWII

It served its industrial purpose for the war effort and for an additional  30 years until Richard Nixon ordered the Boston Naval Shipyard to be closed. For 50 years following those steel piles have created a dense intertidal wetland zone, the harbor waters have been cleaned, and sediments have settled over and capped the industrial waste that has 35 feet below the low tide line on the harbor floor below. 

Massachusetts Chapter 91 shoreline regulations seek to preserve and enhance our tidal wetlands and enhance our aquatic environments while fostering planned community growth and vitality.

Regarding tidal wetlands under pier 5.  The water is deep. As is typical of deep water ports, the shoreline is vertical not estuarian. The 100 foot from shoreline intertidal zone definition would only extend a short distance out the pier itself. However if considers  that the dense placed piles themselves represent an intertidal aquatic environment that has flourished undisturbed for the past 50 years, this may explain why city dwelling fisherman come daily to this location on foot and bicycle carrying buckets and rods  to fish the waters near the pier. It has teaming with marine life for many years now. The steel piles themselves from a unique and dense human constructed intertidal zone reef structure that is nourishing marine life throughout the harbor.  

It may be that the darkness at the center of the pier  limits the biological value of the “Pier 5 reef” and would suggest  that opening  light windows down its center  so that the marine life will pass through to the center—(analogous to the fish windows that were placed under the middle of the  Zakim Bridge and are visible form Paul Revere Park.) might enhance its aquatic value.—-I would  think that preservation of the reef structure, selective reinforcement to provide safety for pedestrian use especially around the perimeter and perhaps various open areas and under a small and architecturally compelling weather protected space could provide artistic, educational, environmental and coastal resiliency benefits and perhaps allow for useful expansion of courageous as well. Perhaps in an age of changing tides and pending ocean encroachment, a wheel chair accessible glass  Ramp –“tidal tube” could extend down into the intertidal zone and back up allowing visitors to walk down into the intertidal zone. Visitors could observe the reef structure and the complex  marine life directly.  This would be a living underwater and intertidal exhibit that would change daily.  Such a concept could also allow daily observations of the high and low tide lines as they fluctuate with moon, the winds and melting icepacks and allow for a living historical demonstration of the pier itself and its unique wartime construction.

Funds for preservation of the pier and Reef and its structural reinforcement to allow for light service duty as an educational and living outdoor natural exhibit as part of a coastal resiliency demonstration should be secured and the pier preserved as a great community asset.

Certainly, Imagine Boston 2030 as an updated city masterplan has revised the visions originally articulated in earlier  municipal harbor plans  and its guidance is now consistent with chapter 91 concepts regarding the tidal water sheet. I would argue the vison of Imagine Boston 2030 should drive the future of this unique and special community place.

Applying letter of the law compliance achieved by the weaseling through inconsistent regulatory language to implement plans that are inconsistent with the community will and the best interest of the people of Boston, should not be taken countenanced. Let us imagine creative solutions for the revitalization of pier 5 and celebrate its value as an aquatic sanctuary and educational resource on a beautiful and dynamic activated waterfront.

Concepts around reefs and pier restoration from scape organization

And over 1,000 pilings, supporting the solid concrete pier, can be restored –  Photo Credit: C. Nicodemus 

How? – An example of one of the solutions

On the waterfront: Composite marine piles build on success

Composite sheet pile competes against heavy-gauge steel while composite round piles enhance their position in the market and target wider acceptance in structural applications.  
#infrastructure #outofautoclave #weaving