I think it’s good news (and about freakin’ time!) that there is movement in the Legislature–specifically a commission headed up by Jamestown Rep. Deborah Ruggiero–to develop Quonset/Davisville as a short sea shipping port. Imagine: taking advantage of our geography and greatest natural resource for possible economic gain! There are some hurdles (‘allo Guvnah!)
The commission found that there was little statewide coordination of the maritime trade economy, and suggested that the governor appoint a port economic policy ombudsman to take on that role.
The ombudsman would chair a Rhode Island Port Marketing Collaborative, which would seek out business and development opportunities for the state’s ports.
A spokesman for Governor Chafee said the governor received the port commission’s report Tuesday afternoon and would not comment until after he had studied it.
The port commission urged the General Assembly and the state’s federal delegation in Congress to ask the U.S. Department of Transportation to designate Rhode Island ports as “destination ports” in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Marine Highway System. That’s a federal program started in 2010, designed to move freight along the coastline and waterways, relieving highway congestion.
Ruggiero noted that New Bedford is already on the Marine Highway map, but Rhode Island’s ports are not. “New Bedford had an advocate, while the State of Rhode Island did not,” she said.
She said Rhode Island’s location should give it an advantage in short sea shipping.
There’s also some dredging that would need to be done and, in an of-course-it’s-Rhode-Island kinda way, it turns out the Harbor Maintenance Fund I mentioned last week can’t be tapped to dredge the Davisville port:
The port commission also recommended that the state fund what Ruggiero called “maintenance dredging” at Davisville and in the shipping lane extending from Davis ville to Jamestown/Conanicut Island.
The commission recommended that the state issue $7.5 million in revenue bonds to pay for the dredging.
While federal funds could be used for the dredging, the port commission said that could mean a wait of between 5 and 10 years before funds could be appropriated.
What’s more, since Davisville hasn’t been dredged since the U.S. Navy did it in 1977, the port is exempt from a federal Harbor Maintenance Tax.
Davisville is the only commercial port on the East Coast without the tax, which gives it a commercial advantage that is important to its growing auto-import business.
So, a long-term competitive advantage, but a short-term bottleneck because of a tax exemption. Figures, right? So instead we’re going to have to go the bond route. Of course, we don’t have to go that way. There’s a remarkable vehicle that could be used to fund the dredging that wouldn’t require the state taxpayers taking on more long term debt: It’s called the State Budget. Of course, that may require re-prioritizing expenditures and the like. I guess we can’t have that.