(FAIRUSE NOTICE: This blog site may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes only. This constitutes a 'Fair Use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 USC Section 107 of the US Copyright Law.)
Employees gather at a dedication ceremony last May for a renovated warehouse at Electric Boat, one Quonset Point’s largest employers.
The Providence Journal / John Freidah
In a state plagued by long-term unemployment, Governor Chafee says Rhode Island must consider increased shipping options for Quonset Point, an issue that has generated fierce debate over the years.
“We’ve got to look at it — anything that’s going to bring jobs,” Chafee said in an interview, adding that any option must not jeopardize the “tremendous value” of Narragansett Bay. “So if we can strike that balance — good jobs in Quonset and keep the Bay prosperous, clean and safe for boaters …”
Chafee has not said what kind of shipping he’s interested in examining.
“Our Quonset strategy is not a fully mature policy yet,” said Chafee spokesman Michael Trainor. “It’s clearly under review and discussion.”
The Quonset Development Corporation, which manages Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown, has recently worked to position the Port of Davisville for what’s called short-sea shipping. That kind of operation would not require the shipping channel to be deepened because shallow-draft barges would be used to bring containers from larger ports on the East Coast.
Other plans to develop the port as a “load center” on the East Coast for international cargo delivered in large steel containers drew heated opposition in the 1990s. Proposals for a cargo container port to accommodate large ships would have required dredging the channel in Narragansett Bay and perhaps filling up to 290 acres of the Bay.
Chafee’s predecessor, Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, opposed a deep-water container port at Quonset when he ran for governor in 2002, effectively killing proposals for a cargo container port for the last eight years.
Chafee raised the idea of further development at Quonset last month at the first meeting he chaired of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation. He said the state needs to focus on assets where investments have already been made, such as T.F. Green Airport and the connection to nearby train tracks, the land opened up by the relocation of Route 195, and Quonset, where $120 million in transportation improvements have been made.
In an interview, Chafee said a widening of the Panama Canal and climate changes that are increasing options for more shipping through the Northwest Passage “are beneficial to Quonset as a shipping spot.” He said the anticipated completion in 2014 of the wider Panama Canal opens up options for new ports on the East Coast.
Chafee is planning another visit to Quonset. He toured the area during his campaign and said he saw “a lot of good things already happening there.”
John G. Laramee, a board member of the Quonset Development Corporation, said he invited then-candidate Chafee to tour the area after he heard him suggest that there might be “an opportunity for a larger shipping port at Quonset.”
Since then, Laramee said he and Chafee have not discussed a deep-water port. Laramee said a major container port at Quonset is just no longer feasible.
After the election, Chafee, Trainor and Patrick A. Rogers, now the governor’s chief of staff, met with union officials, where state AFL-CIO President George Nee said the unions raised the idea of exploring increased activity at Quonset.
Nee, who is also a member of the Economic Development Corporation board, said conversations with the governor didn’t delve into the specifics of what kind of expansion.
“All we really got from the governor is he’s open to looking at what makes sense,” he said.
Some long-time opponents of a container port at Quonset said such an expansion is no longer viable because Quonset has been built up with business and because of environmental concerns.
State Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt, R-North Kingstown, said there’s already a major port operation at Quonset –– the auto-import business by North Atlantic Distribution. He said the General Assembly’s port study commission continues to examine options at Quonset.
“No one, absolutely no one, has brought forth credible information that there were major opportunities to expand port operations at Quonset,” he said.
Sen. James C. Sheehan, D-North Kingstown, has another concern. He said there’s a misconception among Rhode Islanders that, since the container-port idea was dropped, there’s nothing going on at Quonset.
He added that a small “feeder” port, with a minimal effect on the environment, could make some sense.
Richard Pastore, chairman of the North Kingstown Planning Commission and a member of the Quonset Development Corporation board, agreed with Sheehan that many legislators and others don’t understand all the activity under way at Quonset.
He said a smaller facility that brought in material from major East Coast ports –– the short-sea shipping option –– would not be a political problem.
A shipping company did have talks last year with the Quonset Development Corporation about bringing goods by barge into Davisville, but those discussions are on hold, said Steven J. King, managing director of the corporation. Shipping products, rather than trucking them, made sense when fuel costs were very high, but the economics aren’t so clear now.
“It’s going to be difficult to accelerate short-sea shipping until the price of fuel goes up again,” he said.
At Save The Bay, executive director Jonathan Stone said the statewide environmental group has no objections to short-sea shipping, although he’s not sure enough demand exists to make it economically viable. Save The Bay supported the creation of the port study commission and the federal grant requests that successfully brought funding for harbor cranes to both Quonset and the Port of Providence to help position the Rhode Island ports for short-sea shipping.
Chafee said the way to begin any debate about Quonset is to take very preliminary plans — what he called “5 percent” –– to all the stakeholders and then develop ideas with input from anyone who would be affected.
“Here’s the concept. Get all the neighbors in,” he said. “Show it to them, get their input early and then show them again at 10 percent and then at 30 percent: How are we doing? And you get the buy-in.”
In an economy where those at the table –– the saltwater anglers association, Sail Newport, the quahoggers association –– know that many people, including relatives, are out of work, the governor said consensus will come.
In this entire article not one person presented any real plan to do anything positive.
Just more rhetoric and no action.
Hey! get off your collective butts and make some real decisions!
It is also about time that the rest of our state government officials stood up to the "NIMBY" special interests in North Kingston. Grow a set and do something with Quonset that will benefit the entire state economy instead of pandering to the cry-babies in NK.
when you see "dickpastore" grab your kids and dog, and dont walk, RUN from anything he says.
this is the guy who designed the high school septic system "for free". how much does it need servicing? he is also a "democrats for carcieri" who hangs around with the nk republicans who just voted for halley as their party secretary. as you recall, halley is the deposed superintendent who among other bads, misappropriated special needs funds for a steak and lobster getaway.
in ri, you get on boards not based on if you are a good person or not, but on who you know.
we need better people making these choices and providing input.
finally, the person who mentioned carcieri's failings to fix the dmv, have a "big audit", and grow jobs. he failed at fixing the dmv, never held the big audit, but the jobs issue was not possible due to the economy. he did have some successes paring back the cost of state government, so lets give him that credit.