An Economic Development Project Acceptable to Rhode Island?

In the Providence Phoenix from two weeks ago, Ian Donnis quoted University of Rhode Island Political Science Chairwoman Maureen Moakley on Rhode Island’s tendency to reject development of all sorts…

For too long, Moakley believes, there has been a lack of vision and an excess of parochialism on economic development: “We don’t want a port, we don’t want a casino, we don’t want LNG in our backyard, or an airport runway extension,” she says, paraphrasing opponents. “If you look at Boston, and if you look at New York, how can you expect to develop sophisticated economic structures in a global environment under those kinds of restrictions? If we want to remain a pretty backwater, those are the consequences.”
How about this for an economic development project that everyone can get behind: a destination rail yard that would receive ethanol shipments from the Midwest. According to the Sioux City Journal, such a project is being considered for Rhode Island…
In eight years [Union Pacific] has seen a 515 percent growth rate in the ethanol area. The railroad’s investment is an effort to make this expanding business efficient, largely through use of unit-trains of 75 or more cars of ethanol and/or distillers’ dry grain from and to the same locations, with no car switching en route.
While the UP trackage is mostly west of the Mississippi River, it does serve Chicago, where many grain trains are switched to other railroads such as the CSX and Norfolk & Southern, for destinations on the East Coast. Those facilities are currently located in New York and New Jersey, with a UP yard in Dallas, Texas. New destination yards are planned for California, Maryland, Rhode Island and Florida…
The Wall Street Journal has more detail on the link between railroads and ethanol
Unlike gasoline, natural gas and oil, ethanol attracts water and other chemicals, so it can’t be sent through the long-established pipelines that move those fuels. That means the ethanol industry has been forced into a marriage with the already groaning railroads….
Railroad executives say ethanol, though still a small part of their total freight traffic, promises to be a lucrative growth opportunity. Shipments of ethanol have nearly tripled since 2001 to about 106,000 rail carloads last year and are projected to increase to at least 140,000 in 2007, according to the Association of American Railroads in Washington. Each tank car has a capacity of 30,000 gallons….
After the corn is distilled into ethanol, it’s mixed with a small amount of gasoline at the production plant before being shipped by train to a petroleum terminal, where it is blended with gasoline. Large petroleum terminals are accustomed to receiving their product by pipeline and then distributing locally by truck. Most terminals haven’t developed the infrastructure of tracks, storage tanks and rapid unloading to receive ethanol by unit trains, says Kevin Kaufman, group vice president of agricultural products of BNSF’s rail unit. Expanding is difficult because they are sometimes hemmed in by buildings, highways and bodies of water.
As of data retrieved today from the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, there is presently only a single ethanol filling station in the six New England States (Burke Oil in Chelsea, Massachusetts). The lack of ethanol pumps is at least partly the result of the lack infrastructure needed to transport ethanol here. (You know that Vermont would be all over ethanol, because of its reduced greenhouse emissions, if it was easily avialable, right?). Whoever gets the destination rail yard is going to become the central distributor of ethanol-based fuel for all of New England.
Let’s hope that that the NIMBYs and the BANANAs (“build absolutely nothing anywhere near anybody”) don’t start manufacturing excuses to stop a project that could be good for Rhode Island and, as it reduces our dependence on foreign oil, good for the nation.

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17 years ago

I don’t think I’ve ever said this:
Maureen Moakley has a valid point!

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