In 2001, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers produced a Purpose and Need report for the Providence Harbor channel dredging project. The report contains several striking paragraphs about Rhode Island’s precarious oil heat supply capacity. Since 2001, Rhode Island has lost even more storage capacity as oil tanks have been torn down in Providence and elsewhere. This shortage of storage capacity is making it difficult to even maintain the state’s emergency three-day home heating oil reserve.

An important justification for dredging the Providence River channel is the impact it would have on public safety. Both petroleum products and road-salt are vital commodities to the well being of the people of Rhode Island and the surrounding areas. A large number of people rely on a continuous flow of heating oil, gasoline, and diesel fuel into the Port of Providence. Therefore, failure to dredge the Providence Ship Channel places undue risk upon the health and safety of citizens for several reasons.

The ability of the current system to effectively deliver adequate quantities of fuel to Rhode Island under draft restrictions and using the current supply methods to meet present demand is precarious. During the winter of 1999-2000 the entire State of Rhode Island came within one day of running out of heating oil in February when weather conditions precluded barge delivery of petroleum. The arrival of a foreign flagged ship of heating oil averted what could have been a life-threatening crisis. The following winter, in December 2000, Rhode Island was down to less than a two-day supply even
though there was a tanker carrying much needed supplies at anchor in Rhode Island waters. However, barges were not available to lighter oil. This reserve was created based partly on the fact that rough weather conditions would
prevent barges from sailing when seas are over 4 ft high or barges might not be available when needed.

The need for #2 back-up fuel:

Petroleum (#2 fuel oil) is recognized by ISO New England (2001) prospectively as a back-up fuel for electrical generation. This adds another reason why the channel will need to accommodate fully loaded petroleum tankers. Electric generation plants in Rhode Island are interruptible gas customers. When natural gas is unavailable, they can switch to #2 fuel oil for a period of three days in order to continue to produce electricity.

The need for road salt:

The other commodity that is brought into the Port of Providence, which directly impacts public safety, is road-salt. Road-salt is a necessary commodity during the winter months. Presently, this commodity comes into this market through two terminals in Providence.

The front page of today’s Providence Journal features an article about home heating oil prices reaching an all-time high:

Another winter of expensive heating bills is coming, and for those who use heating oil, it is forecast to be the most costly ever.

While the price of heating oil is primarily determined by the global crude oil futures market, the simple law of supply and demand still applies. So if Providence looses a major home heating oil supply terminal like Sprague Energy to luxury condos, Rhode Island home heating oil customer could face even higher prices. And loosing even more storage capacity could led to dangerously low supplies of home heating oil should we face a serious stretch of cold weather.

Oil terminals and storage tanks might not be pretty, but they are absolutely essential for heating the 172,000 Rhode Island households who depend on home heating oil.

Ever wonder what a typical day is like at Promet Marine, Rhode Island’s only commercial ship repair yard? Watch the video below to learn about the many types of ships that depend on Promet and Providence’s working waterfront.

Statement of The Providence Working Waterfront Alliance

In Reaction to City Council Passage of the Comprehensive Plan

The Providence Working Waterfront Alliance is deeply disappointed in the City Council’s vote to pass the Comprehensive Plan this evening. The working waterfront along the Allens Avenue corridor, north of Thurbers Avenue, is the only neighborhood that has been singled out for a Land Use change – from industrial only to mixed use residential – in this plan despite the near universal opposition of area businesses. We feel that this change is extremely shortsighted as it will open the door to incompatible mixed use residential condominiums that will spell the end of this economically vital resource for Providence, Rhode Island, and the entire region.

Sadly, it seems that the city has been swayed by a glitzy vision of condos, hotels, and marinas and the supposed increased property tax revenues they would bring. They have chosen this speculative vision over the reality of existing working waterfront businesses, many of whom have operated here for more than 100 years, who provide hundreds of good blue collar jobs, supply essential resources like home heating oil, and contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to the region’s economy. If only the city were as excited about the working waterfront’s growth potential, our companies would invest millions in their facilities and new businesses would be attracted to the area to take advantage of huge projected increases in sea shipping traffic.

While we are disappointed by this evening’s vote, we would like to acknowledge the efforts of many on the City Council, particularly Ordinance Committee Chairman Michael Solomon and Councilman Seth Yurdin, to understand and address the concerns of the Alliance in the Council’s consideration of the Comprehensive Plan. We appreciate their attempts to mitigate the consequences of the Land Use change and to recognize the value of the working waterfront.

Despite this evening’s vote, we remain committed to protecting Providence’s working waterfront and will be vigilant in making sure that our voice is heard loud and clear during the upcoming neighborhood charrette and zoning ordinance process. We will continue to make the case that our industrial working waterfront is far more valuable to the city, state, and region, than any high priced condo development.

The Providence Working Waterfront Alliance would like to respond to Mayor David Cicilline’s comments and conjecture about the impact of Comprehensive Plan changes on working waterfront businesses, as published in today’s “First passage expected for new Comprehensive Plan” article in the Providence Journal.

First, Mayor Cicilline believes there will be no impact on working waterfront area jobs because relocation alternatives are available. We would like to ask the Mayor and Planning Director Thomas Deller to please provide us with a list of possible alternative locations for existing businesses, because we can not envision any. As we have stated previously:

  • Most working waterfront businesses must have access to Providence’s 40-foot deep-water port channel to operate.
  • There is no developable relocation space available at ProvPort or Fields Point.
  • The state has indicated that it does not want heavy industrial uses at Quonset and there is no deep water channel access at this location.

Given this lack of relocation alternatives, we feel strongly that mixed use residential development will mean the loss of working waterfront businesses and jobs. Future condo owners are sure to complain about their industrial neighbors, and these complaints will create political pressure for operating restrictions that will eventually force working waterfront companies out of business.

Second, Mayor Cicilline believes that changing the working waterfront’s Land Use designation to “Mixed Use/Residential” will allow the city to find the “highest and best use for that area.” This myopic vision fails to account for the potential growth that could occur if the city were to maintain the existing industrial only zoning. Why is the Mayor completely closed to encouraging further industrial uses of this area that would take advantage of the port’s unique advantages like the 40-ft deep water channel and easy access to railways and highways? Given huge projected increases in sea based shipping volumes, the Port of Providence’s “highest and best use” could well be as an industrial port. In the absence of any real economic analysis studies comparing possible future land uses, as was conducted during the 1990 Comprehensive Plan process, it is shortsighted to simply assume that “Mixed Use/Residential” is the “highest and best use” for the working waterfront.

Finally, the Mayor singles out the salt pile at Sprague Energy’s Allens Avenue facility as not being a “highest and best use.” Sprague’s Providence salt pile is one of the primary sources of road salt for Rhode Island’s cities and towns. Road salt has to be shipped in and stored somewhere, and Providence’s 40-ft deep water port allows Sprague to meet the area’s road salt needs. Once again, the Mayor’s narrow vision of “highest and best use” precludes a state-wide resource that is incredibly valuable to the safety of Rhode Island drivers during our icy winters.

Our open letter to Mayor Cicilline, the Providence City Council, and state economic development and energy officials:

Dear elected leaders and officials:

The Port of Providence is a vital regional economic resource that must be protected. Why? Because Providence’s working waterfront is:

  • Responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in total economic impact for Rhode Island and greater southern New England.
  • Responsible for hundreds of direct good paying blue collar jobs and thousands more related jobs for tradesmen, truck drivers, and service technicians.
  • The main source of home heating oil for more than 450,000 Rhode Island customers, and the only source of backup fuel oil for hospitals, universities, and utilities.

Unfortunately, the City of Providence is currently considering zoning changes that would threaten to replace this economic engine with high priced condos, hotels, and marinas.

This gentrification of Providence’s working waterfront is shortsighted. While condos, hotels, and marinas may increase the city’s property tax revenues, they will come at the expense of existing businesses, good paying blue collar jobs, and a state and regional economic resource that will never be rebuilt. The costs to Rhode Island and the region could be immense, as thousands of port-related jobs could be lost and heating and energy supplies could run dangerously low.

Rhode Island needs real economic development, not more luxury condos. Please protect Providence’s working waterfront and the jobs, energy resources, and economic benefits it provides for all of Rhode Island.


The Providence Working Waterfront Alliance

Take Action! Call or email Mayor Cicilline and the Providence City Council and tell them to protect Providence’s working waterfront!

Mayor David Cicilline: 421-7740,
Providence City Council: 521-7477,

This week’s Providence Business News editorial strongly supports protecting Providence’s working waterfront from incompatible condominiums and marinas:

Plans to re-develop the Providence waterfront for commercial and residential use would require zoning changes that eventually would lead to the displacement of century-old industrial businesses that are doing just fine, thank you very much. The effort is just plain wrong, and should be stopped.

This week’s Providence Business News features a Newsmakers interview with David and Joel Cohen, the co-owners of Promet Marine Services, one of the founding members of the Providence Working Waterfront Alliance.

PBN: Are you afraid that if waterfront zoning along Allens Avenue becomes mixed use, that you are going to be pushed out?

JOEL COHEN: We honestly believe that the city wants to push us out of business, despite what they say. We’re fighting it, and we’re hoping that we’ll have positive results. We just can’t stop doing business. We have a very important niche … in the Northeast. There’s really no other facility like ours. … And our employees are behind us. … They like what they see, that the owners are fighting to preserve their jobs.

Sadly, at last night’s meeting, the City Ordinance Committee voted to approve a slightly amended interim Comprehensive Plan that directly threatens Providence’s working waterfront along Allens Ave. As Providence Working Waterfront Alliance Chairman Joel Cohen notes in today’s Providence Journal article about the hearing, “We look at it as the first nail in the coffin.”

Rather than first consult with affected businesses through a neighborhood charrette or conduct a real economic analysis of the value of the working waterfront, the city is rushing forward with a plan that changes the working waterfront’s designation from industrial only to mixed use, and opens the door to condo-izing this critical regional economic resource.

Allowing condos or other residential options along the working waterfront will be the beginning of the end for this vibrant economic resource. Future condo owners are sure to complain about and call for the closing of adjacent industrial working waterfront companies.

Providence Working Waterfront Alliance supporters and other neighborhood groups at last night’s hearing.

Letter to the editor response to Patrick Conley’s October 15th op-ed:

I read Patrick T. Conley’s October 15th op-ed piece, “The different waterfronts of Providence,” with some amusement. I thought Mr. Conley was a historian and not a fiction writer. Unfortunately, his comments about the supposed “wilting waterfront” along Allens Avenue are filled with outright misstatements and faulty logic.

First, Mr. Conley simply lies about the operations at my facility, Promet Marine, which provides repair services to the barges, ferries, tugs, fishing vessels, and U.S. Coast Guard ships that make our vibrant marine economy possible. He claims that we have “unchecked emissions of sandblasted lead and paint overspray.” This is entirely inaccurate as lead has not been used in marine industry paint for more than 20 years. Lead is not in the paints we use today and has not been an issue in any of our sandblasting work. Promet is in compliance with all Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and federal Environmental Protection Agency rules and regulations. Ironically, this is not true of Mr. Conley who never received the necessary DEM permits to dig up contaminated soil on his own property.

Second, Mr. Conley’s piece arbitrarily divides the Port of Providence between the area south of Thurbers Avenue, which he praises as a working waterfront, and the area north of Thurbers Avenue which he deems the “wilting waterfront.” Despite the fact that both Sprague Energy and Promet use the 40-foot deep water channel, have operated in the area for decades, and are an integral part of the region’s economy, because we sit directly next to Mr. Conley’s small parcel of land, he simply dismisses our importance. This is illogical. On the one hand he argues that Motiva’s fuel supply and storage facility, which is sufficiently far away from his own property, is “too viable and necessary to be dislodged.” Yet he completely dismisses the importance of Sprague Energy’s terminal which supplies the vast majority of home heating oil to more than 450,000 Rhode Islanders and is the state’s only source of heavy fuel oil for hospitals, universities, commercial and municipal buildings, and utilities. This convenient situational logic for Mr. Conley’s planned development ignores the interconnected economic nature of the Port of Providence and its benefits to the region.

Finally, Mr. Conley’s “wilting waterfront” phrase is an inaccurate insult to companies that have successfully operated on Allens Avenue for years. Indeed, both Sprague Energy and Narragansett Improvement have continuously operated in their current locations for over 100 years, and Promet has operated at our location for over 30 years. These companies are financially successful, responsible for hundreds of direct and thousands of indirect jobs, and contribute to the entire region’s economy by providing needed heating oil, salt, asphalt, and commercial ship repair services. Far from wilting, our working waterfront companies are thriving, and with the appropriate zoning protections, are poised to attract additional investments to take advantage of huge predicted increases in shipping commerce.

Sadly, Mr. Conley seems to feel that slander and the replacement of existing successful companies with speculative luxury condos is good economic policy. Rather, it is the hard but unglamorous work of Providence’s working waterfront businesses that will best serve our region’s economy over the long term.

Joel Cohen
Chairman, Providence Working Waterfront Alliance

In an October 19th joint letter, 9 Providence neighborhood, community, and business organizations have asked the city council to slow down the Comprehensive Plan process. The letter argues that:

  • The City Ordinance Committee and the full City Council should not pass, in any form, the proposed Comprehensive Plan until all neighborhood charrettes have been completed.
  • The DPD must take into account community feedback received at neighborhood charrettes and incorporate this feedback into any final document.
  • There is no need to rush passage of a new Comprehensive Plan as there are no negative legal or financial consequences to leaving the existing expired Comprehensive Plan in place.

The 9 groups who signed the letter are DARE, the Mount Hope Neighborhood Association, the Olneyville Neighborhood Association, the College Hill Neighborhood Association, the Mt. Hope Neighborhood Land Trust, the Summit Neighborhood Association, the West Broadway Neighborhood Association, Rhode Island Jobs With Justice, and the Providence Working Waterfront Alliance.

Today’s Providence Journal has an article about a waterfront tour given as part of a Rhode Island Sea Grant/Coastal Resources Center conference, “Creating Vibrant Waterfronts in Rhode Island.” As part of the tour, the group viewed Providence’s working waterfront area along Allens Ave. :

In the afternoon, the group sailed from Providence Piers, the waterfront complex battling with its neighbors, many of whom are heavy industries such as shipyards and oil terminals.

For more than a decade, Providence has touted plans to redevelop the area with hotels and restaurants. Austin Becker, a coastal planner at Sea Grant, said other heavy industries have wanted to come to Providence, but decided not to because of the city’s plans.

This week’s edition of the Providence Phoenix has a lengthy article by reporter and local blogger Ian Donnis about the battle over the future of the city’s waterfront:

A specter is haunting the Providence waterfront — the prospect of change.

Take a look at the upper mouth of Narragansett Bay from a high point on George M. Cohan Boulevard, and the area looks much as it has for years: sun-dappled days offer glistening water in proximity to the ship repair work, numerous fuel storage tanks, and other gritty industrial elements that line much of the corridor along Allens Avenue.

If this picture doesn’t square with the kind of pleasant recreation and other public uses sometimes associated with waterfront property, it nonetheless represents a genuine economic generator and a source of good-paying jobs.

Yet various factors — particularly the ongoing relocation of Interstate 195 and the sparse amount of developable land in Providence — are combining to make the city’s waterfront a high-stakes battleground. And the outcome of these skirmishes will have statewide repercussions for years to come.

September 13th NBC 10 News at 11pm segment on the threat to Providence’s working waterfront. The piece includes interviews with Joel Cohen of Promet Marine and Ash Kinzel of Sprague Energy.

Propeller Club presentation

October 16th, 2007

Last night, Providence Working Waterfront Alliance members Joel Cohen of Promet Marine and Howard McVay of Northeast Marine Pilots, delivered a presentation to more than 50 members of the Narragansett Bay Propeller Club about the gentrification threat now facing many Providence working waterfront businesses:

The industries on Allens Avenue, including Motiva, are all part of this interrelated web. Along with Provport we are the most valuable industrial zone left in the State because we are water dependent. We have access to a 40 ft. Federal channel that makes Providence the only commercial port in the State of Rhode Island. And as you all know it cost the taxpayers in excess of 65 million dollars.

Can we allow the City to waste this investment? Can we allow the City to destroy businesses that service not just the City, but the State and the New England region as well, business that, if the cloud were lifted, can continue to grow? Or do we acquiesce to the vision of Olneyville that appears to our City Planners as the answer to a bigger tax base? You can’t see any industry at all in their pretty pictures for the future of Allens Avenue.

Read Joel Cohen’s full statement and PowerPoint presentation.