Saturday’s Providence Journal editorial compliments Mayor Angel Taveras and Providence Economic Development Director James Bennett for recognizing the value of the city’s working waterfront:
Saving Providence’s port
The dream of hotels, condos, shops and restaurants along Providence’s waterfront made for pretty pictures. But it’s a good thing that local business and political leaders stuck with keeping this area a working port - helping to maintain Rhode Island’s maritime industry and hundreds of high-paying blue-collar jobs.
There are more than enough pretty places in Rhode Island - and indeed Providence - to exploit for tourism and condo development without destroying one of the region’s key economic assets.
Mayor Taveras deserves credit for dropping the attempt of previous mayors to rezone the Allens Avenue area for extensive mixed use, something that would almost certainly have brought in condo/ hospitality business developers (and campaign contributors) while putting less glitzy (but much better-paying ) existing businesses at risk. City officials now plan to add only office development to the mix for the port area. The financial crash was aided and abetted by grotesque over-development of condos. Let’s get back to real, broad-based-wealth creators — trade, manufacturing and technological innovation.
The mayor and his economic-development director, James Ben-nett, clearly understand the importance of industrial jobs and a port infrastructure to Rhode Island’s future. This is a significant competitive advantage that Providence has over landlocked cities of the Mid-west, for instance.
Today’s Providence Journal has an excellent editorial noting the exciting news that Sims Metal Management has purchased Promet Marine. Sims’ investment in Promet’s deep-water pier is clear evidence of the tremendous value of the Allens Avenue working waterfront and the need to maintain industrial zoning to protect this critical state and regional economic asset.
Providence received some good news recently, with the announcement by Sims Metal Management, an international metals and electronics-recycling company, that it has acquired Promet Marine Services on Allens Avenue.
Promet, with a 600-foot pier served by rail and capable of berthing deep-draft ships, and some nine acres for shore-side operations, has long been a leader in the local marine-trades sector. With the sale, for an undisclosed sum, and the new owner’s intention to retain all current Promet personnel and hire more over the coming months, our marine industry seems stronger than ever, and likely to play a growing role in the city’s economy.
Scrap is in high demand in many markets around the world. Sims’s entry into the region should translate into higher prices for scrap from area manufacturers, helping them to hire more workers and reinvest capital.
This is the kind of development the Ocean State needs. It also speaks to the wisdom of having dredged the badly silted Providence River channel, in 2004.
The Providence Journal has an editorial noting the “sweet sound of scrap” being loaded onto ships in the Port of Providence, and why port operations should be protected from incompatible hotel and condo uses which inevitably result in resident noise complaints about heavy industrial activity:
The biggest export from the Port of Providence is scrap metal, all part of the noble, and in this instance profitable, effort to recycle what we discard. In recent days two large ships at the port have been loading scrap, and clanging has reverberated across the Providence River as hoppers suspended from huge cranes have been swung out over the ships to drop tons of the stuff into their cavernous holds, raising clouds of rust-colored dust.
It’s exciting to watch, and the sound should be music to the ears of residents of a region coming out of a long recession. The more activity in our commercial sector, the less we will have to extract from taxpayers to upgrade infrastructure and pay pensions.
Still, that doesn’t stop people from complaining, and underscores the danger of locating condos and hotels near the port, which would only increase the complaints. But the complainants are not totally devoid of our sympathy. Maybe if they had some peace and quiet they could study economics.
On May 6th, members of the General Assembly’s Port Study Commission visited Promet Marine to learn about the company’s marine repair operations and the critical importance of maintaining Rhode Island’s Type 6 waters for marine-industrial uses.
With yet another winter storm bearing down and continued cold weather forecast, Southern New England needs heating oil to keep homes and businesses warm, and road salt to keep our streets and highways safe for drivers. That’s why facilities like Sprague Energy’s Allens Avenue terminal in the Port of Providence — with a capacity to supply upwards of 1 million gallons of home heating oil and more than 150 trucks of road salt in a single day — are so critical to our region.
Below are pictures of home heating oil and road salt trucks being supplied on a busy winter day (January 25th) at Sprague’s Allens Ave terminal.
Don Church of Seaboats Inc. has an excellent opinion editorial in the Providence Journal about the critical role that barges play in supplying Rhode Island with gasoline and home heating oil, and how the Port of Providence is well situated to attract new coastal barge commerce:
Did you know that most of Rhode Island’s gasoline and home-heating oil comes into the state by barge? Without tank barges making those deliveries, we would all be a lot colder this winter! Rhode Island also exports ethanol via barge, a vital part of the state’s economy. The barge industry also provides opportunities for good-paying family-wage jobs. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate is the nation’s fifth-highest; expanding opportunities for maritime jobs is important. Because the Port of Providence is the only deep-water port in New England besides Boston, commercial waterways transportation is an economic engine for the region.
The Port of Providence recently won $10.5 million in federal funds to buy two harbor cranes to expand cargo handling and make the port more competitive. More cargo transported in and out of the port will mean more jobs. Port-related employment has increased 300 percent in the past 15 years. With over 30,000 Rhode Islanders out of work, Rhode Island’s historic maritime industry and the state’s ports could not be more critical.
Barging is the most economical and efficient mode of cargo transportation, given the enormous carrying capacity and fuel efficiency of a barge. One coastal barge can carry the same amount of liquid cargo as 336 tanker trucks. Without barge transportation, imagine the congestion that would result from thousands more trucks on our already clogged highways, not to mention the additional air pollution!
Barging brings us the home-heating oil that keeps Rhode Islanders warm in the winter without facing shortages and much higher costs. Barges also transport the bulk commodities that are the building blocks of the U.S. economy, including millions of tons of coal to power plants for electricity production, petroleum products to heat our homes and fuel our vehicles and airplanes, chemicals essential to our industries, concrete for construction projects and salt for our winter roads. Vital industries depend on barge transportation to deliver these commodities. Without barge transportation, the costs of these materials would skyrocket.
The barge industry is the safest and most environmentally friendly cargo transportation. Barging produces lower air emissions than rail or truck, and U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that more than 99.999 percent of oil transported by tank barges is delivered safely. In fact, tank-barge spills have declined by 99.6 percent since 1990. In 2009, tank-barge oil spills reached the lowest levels since 1973, when Coast Guard record keeping began. Spills from barges accounted for just 9.3 percent of marine- spill volume, less than tank ships, cargo ships and marine transportation facilities.
A study by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University found that the fuel efficiency of tugboats and towboats combined with the superior carrying capacity of barges make barging the most efficient and affordable transportation mode for freight, compared with rail or trucking. The industry offers good jobs on its vessels, and thousands of other shore-side jobs depend on a vital waterways-transportation industry. It’s essential to Rhode Island.
At a State House hearing before the Special Senate Task Force on Fisheries, Chris Brown of the Rhode Island Commercial Fisheries Association testified to the importance of protecting the state’s ports from incompatible condo and hotel development. From the Providence Journal:
Chris Brown, president of the Rhode Island Commercial Fisheries Association, said the New England groundfish industry has declined from 1,200 vessels to about 477 in 30 years. But with all the cutbacks in fishing effort, he now expects big increases in fish stocks and catches.
He called on the committee to make sure no port areas are converted to condominiums or hotels, because the state is going to need more space to serve the fishing industry as it’s reborn.
State Senator and port study commission co-chair William Walaska recently addressed the Providence Propeller Club and talked about the importance of protecting and expanding Rhode Island’s port and water-dependent businesses:
During hearings of the commission and as a result of tours of port facilities around the state, Senator Walaska told the Propeller Club gathering in East Providence, “members became better educated about the opportunities and challenges faced in the maritime industry (and are) very supportive of not only maintaining existing port activities but also identifying ways to expand and provide new opportunities for water dependent businesses to relocate to Rhode Island’s waterfront and grow our maritime jobs base.”
Senator Walaska told the organization that the commission, which issued an interim report earlier this year, is planning more hearings in the coming months. Among the areas that will be under study, he said, are a strategic plan for the state’s port facilities; a review of channel maintenance dredging requirements and considerations; development of a Marine Highway System hub in Rhode Island in partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation, and coordination of state efforts to expand maritime commerce with municipal land use regulations.
“It is critical during these difficult economic times for Rhode Island to work in partnership with port managers and water dependent business owners,” he said. “These partnerships should promote all of Rhode Island’s waterfront assets in a way that will increase job opportunities for the thousands of Rhode Islanders now unemployed or underemployed.”
“The Ocean State’s history is deeply rooted to the working waterfronts of the state and I expect the work of the commission will continue this tradition for the benefit of the state’s residents and businesses,” he said.
Rhode Island Sea Grant has just finished an important study which inventories all of the state’s commercial/industrial ports and harbors. The report notes that Rhode Island, the Ocean State, is running out of waterfront property suitable for water-dependent commercial uses:
The processes of creating the GIS‐based Inventory and forming a supportive network of public and private partners have contributed to initiating a rich dialogue amongst government, private sector, and community interests. This is now helping Rhode Island examine how urban waterfronts can be better embraced as tools for important state goals such as the creation of quality jobs, reliance on a mix of traditional and renewable energy resources, and development of a more efficient, effective and secure marine transportation system. All of these goals are illustrative of pressing economic, social, and environmental issues now facing Rhode Island and the New England region.
Within this context – fostering marine‐based industry as one means of solving key problems – the GIS‐based Inventory points to a critical challenge: land appropriate for coastal commercial use, or acreage with adjacent Type 6 waters, is extremely scarce. Timely implementation of balanced planning approaches is sorely needed to integrate and make best use of the remaining parcels’ full array of economic, social, and environmental assets.
– Page 37, Rhode Island Ports & Commercial Harbors report
As reported in the Providence Journal, the three major Providence mayoral candidates — Steven Costantino, John Lombardi, and Angel Taveras — all oppose plans to rezone Allens Avenue to allow for incompatible non-industrial uses.
And all are opposed to Mayor Cicilline’s proposed rezoning of the industrial South Providence waterfront, which would allow bars, restaurants, hotels and other non-industrial uses.
- Primary for Providence mayor is tough to call, Sunday, September 5, 2010
Democratic mayoral candidate Rep. Steven M. Costantino said last week that he is opposed to Mayor David N. Cicilline’s plan to rezone the industrial South Providence waterfront to allow for bars, restaurants, hotels and other non-industrial uses . . .
Fellow Democratic mayoral candidates City Councilman John J. Lombardi and Angel Taveras, a former Housing Court judge appointed by Cicilline, have also stated their opposition to the mayor’s proposed rezoning plan.
- Costantino opposes waterfront rezoning plan, Monday, September 6, 2010
Mayoral Candidate Statements On Allens Ave’s Working Waterfront
Costantino will work with business to develop jobs along a working waterfront
And our waterfront is flush with opportunity for sustainable jobs. There is no doubt that a working waterfront is part of the comprehensive and smart plan for this city’s economic development.
2007 comments and vote against comprehensive plan with Allens Ave waterfront changes:
Some council members have argued that the city doesn’t need to submit the plan in stages at all, and can wait for the neighborhood planning process to conclude. Councilman John J. Lombardi said last night that the city does not need to rush things, as the current plan should still function legally and govern local development even though it has expired.
“To go forward as we are, it may just be unwarranted and inappropriate,” Lombardi said.
The plan was passed 10 to 3, with several council members saying that they did not see the need to pass the plan now, and urging their colleagues to wait until the charettes are completed.
“Now is not the time to turn our backs on our neighborhood. Let our citizens be heard,” said Councilman Kevin Jackson, who was joined by Josephine DiRuzzo and John J. Lombardi in opposition.
Protect Providence’s Working Waterfront from development that could endanger the industrial productivity of the Port of Providence.
Jobs & Economic Development speech:
(6) I will protect jobs at the Working Waterfront - an invaluable economic asset for our city - from development decisions that would endanger the industrial productivity of the Port of Providence.
Notes opposition to mixed-use zoning in 10 News Conference interview (at 20:45)
Projo.com has an excellent “R.I.’s future maritime jobs” piece by marine experts Peter Michaelson William Coffey, and George Shuster Jr. The article notes the tremendous potential for marine industrial growth in Rhode Island, including at the Port of Providence, which the authors argue must be protected from incompatible uses:
The Port of Providence is an example of an intermodal facility already in service for many years. It stands as the best example of commercial/industrial port activity in the state. Adjoining businesses include ProMet Marine, one of the two remaining active, full-service commercial shipyards in Rhode Island (the other is the Blount Shipyard, in Warren). ProMet serves the shipping and fishing industries with high-tonnage facilities for repair and maintenance of vessels. A number of other port-dependent businesses also adjoin the facility, including tanker off-loading docks, fuel-tank farms and truck distribution facilities, a tug and barge base, and others.
However, expansion of maritime industry at the Port of Providence is limited by a number of factors.
First, although acreage available is adequate for present tenants and enterprises and space remains for a limited amount of further development, intensive development will be limited by available space.
Second, while the happy coincidence of a complex shoreline to the south of the Port has enabled development of the former Fields Point shipyard as a Johnson & Wales University center, together with the new Save the Bay education and research center, this juxtaposition of uses will not work as easily to the north or directly to the west of the Port. Non-industrial redevelopment of Conley’s Wharf and adjacent property is thus not appropriate; another use for that site should be sought. Appropriate uses might include fabrication of wind turbines, or development of a cruise-ship terminal.
Future development of the Port of Providence, together with the proposed “Knowledge District,” badly needs a buffer zone between them. One desirable way to integrate a buffer zone with current proposals would be to establish a green strip where light rail cars would connect the port, knowledge sector enterprises, human services and residential areas of the city.
State Senator William Walaska has a strong letter to the editor in the Warwick Beacon which argues for the need to protect Providence’s water-dependent port businesses from incompatible mixed uses:
Keeping commerce at the Port of Providence
To the Editor:
As Co-Chair of the Joint Legislative Port Commission, I want to offer my statewide perspective on waterfront development and redevelopment, especially as it relates to the ordinance amendments before the Providence Ordinance Committee. My statewide perspective has been developed during the past year and a half of meetings and tours conducted by the legislative Port Commission that included the waterfront of Providence and ProvPort. While I appreciate the city’s vision for a vibrant and mixed use waterfront zone, I am concerned that some of the permitted uses within these zones may conflict with the region’s energy infrastructure as well as existing businesses located in the area to be re-zoned.
The legislative Port Commission has heard extensive testimony regarding the limited amount of property still available for development or redevelopment of water-dependent businesses. In fact a recent study conducted by the URI Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant found that there are as little as four parcels statewide totaling 41 acres that are available for development in areas that have Type 6 waters, which are permitted for commercial and industrial water dependent uses. Providence is host to some of the most important infrastructure in the region that supplies critical energy resources to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses. In addition, many existing businesses along Allens Avenue have expressed serious concerns about how new permitted uses within the proposed zones could negatively impact their ability to operate as often and as late as is sometimes required by their business.
The decisions the City Ordinance Committee members make will have a long-lasting impact on the state’s and the region’s ability to compete in the marketplace for industrial and commercial enterprises that rely on access to deepwater channels. I caution the Committee to carefully consider the potential zoning changes that are proposed and how those changes may change the landscape of the working waterfront for generations to come. It is critical that Providence continues to provide the vital services to the state and the region that its residents and businesses rely on and not jeopardize the ability of those services to be delivered in a timely and cost-effective manner. As the Department of Energy noted in its letter to Governor Carcieri dated Nov. 10, 2009, “Rezoning may result in future restrictions on terminal operations to accommodate residential preferences that could endanger the economic viability of the terminals given the differing nature of the established and proposed uses of the areas in question. This could eventually result in the loss of petroleum storage capacity for the region.”
I appreciate the city’s continued communication with the legislative Port Commission on these and other important issues. I will continue to provide leadership for port-related activities and encourage decision-makers to not only maintain current water-dependent uses but expand these uses wherever possible statewide.
Senator William A. Walaska
June 9th pictures from a busy Promet Marine shipyard bustling with repairs to a Coast Guard cutter and several commercial fishing vessels.
At a recent presentation to the members of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, Rhode Island Economic Development Director Keith Stokes noted the importance of investing in our state’s shipyards and ensuring that local zoning supports these businesses. As reported in the Spring 2010 edition of the Newport County Chamber’s Business Journal:
Over recent decades, much of the commercial shipbuilding and other marine trade activity has been lost in Rhode Island. To grow the Ocean State’s marine industry, Stokes advocates that we invest in the remaining three large shipyards in Providence Harbor, Quonset Bay and Portsmouth’s Melville area where mega - yachts are currently fitted out and serviced. We also need to ensure local zoning continues to support this type of business activity. Stokes advocated for Quonset’s port utilization as a Short Sea Destination. Large container ships can offload in Newark, New York, or Boston. Trains and/or small container ships would bring goods to Rhode Island port saving shippers significantly versus using traditional 18-wheeler trucking.
Today’s Providence Journal has an opinion editorial by Providence Working Waterfront Alliance founding members Sprague Energy, Promet Marine, and Narragansett Improvement about the city’s failed mixed-use vision for Allens Ave:
In June 2000, then-Mayor Vincent Cianci Jr. held an event to unveil his grand “New Cities” urban renewal plan for future development in Providence. Rolled out to great fanfare, the plan envisioned a new “Narragansett Landing” neighborhood along Allens Avenue’s historically industrial harbor front. The plan included beautiful drawings of waterfront promenades, residences, hotels, and marinas. Completely absent however, was any depiction of the area’s existing oil tanks, barges, cargo tankers or industrial businesses.
Indeed, these industrial businesses were explicitly not part of the plan and were to be wiped off of the face of the waterfront. As The Journal reported at the time, “he [Mayor Cianci] . . . said he hopes to sweep away a boatyard, an asphalt plant, oil and gas storage tanks and industrial docks to make room for hundreds of apartments with their own boat slips, 3 hotels, 12 office buildings, and a 40-acre marina with space for 500 boats.”
Ironically, almost 10 years after the unveiling of the Narragansett Landing plan, it is the city’s mixed-use vision that has failed, not the gritty industrial businesses located along Allens Avenue’s working waterfront in the Port of Providence. The area’s only announced mixed-use project, the proposed $300 million Providence Piers condo, hotel, and marina development, is now in foreclosure and the subject of ongoing litigation.
In stark contrast, despite facing the threat of condemnation, eminent domain, and being zoned out of existence, the area’s water-dependent and industrial businesses are not only still stubbornly on the avenue, they are thriving. According to the June 2008 economic impact study, just seven water-dependent, water-enhanced industrial businesses along Allens Avenue are responsible for $294 million in annual business sales, employ 372 workers with an average compensation of approximately $60,000 per year, and have a total annual economic impact of $324 million.
With a 40-foot, federally dredged channel, a strategic location between Boston and New York City, and excellent rail and highway access, the Allens Avenue corridor is poised for continued success. With the proper zoning in place and a commitment to promote this unique industrial asset, Providence’s working waterfront is sure to grow and create new good paying jobs.
Hotels can be built anywhere. We need a waterfront that works.