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

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