UPDATED: Port Developments

Last week I commented on the good news “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.”
To accomplish this, dredging of the harbor would be necessary. According to the story from the ProJo, “The commission recommended that the state issue $7.5 million in revenue bonds to pay for the dredging.” In reaction to this, I wrote:

So…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.

Rep. Ruggerio contacted me to clarify that the Governor’s budget, specifically Article 7 (PDF), does indeed contain language regarding the bond and that she is submitting separate legislation only as a backup plan in case the article doesn’t pass. So, contrary to what I wrote, the budget is the vehicle being used. Yet, regardless of the the method being used, the proposal is still to fund the work via a bond with the associated debt. Here is the pertinent section of Article 7:

Quonset Development Corporation Revenue Bonds
This article authorizes $7.5 million in debt for various capital projects including, but not limited to, harbor, pier, port, channel, dredging and other costs related to the Davisville Piers Improvements Project at the Quonset Business Park. Total debt service is not expected to exceed $911,200 annually and $9.1 million in the aggregate, based on an average interest rate of 4.0 percent and a 10-year maturity.
The bonds or loan agreements issued pursuant to this article will not constitute the indebtedness of the State, and required payments will be derived from Corporation revenues. The Corporation has identified several sources of revenue to contribute to this debt service, including increasing the tariff on dockage from $3.00 to $6.00 per foot ($243,750 annually), increasing the tariff on wharfage from $3.00 to $6.00 per vehicle ($160,000 annually), and contributing $507,456 annually from operating funds. The authorization for this debt applies to bonds issued within one year of the passage of the resolution.

My thanks to Rep. Ruggerio for clarifying the technical aspects, but I still remain critical of the method. In addition to the dredging, Article 7 contains $201 million in proposed bond referenda (including more Transportation bonds) and $278 million worth of “budgeted” debt authorizations (including the dredging).
Whether a bond is passed as part of the budget, via a referendum or in a separate piece of legislation, my original contention remains: Though I understand the philosophy of spreading debt out over X number of years, I’m critical of the bond avenue because I believe that we are asked to fund too many bonds to pay for items that should be paid for via appropriation from the general revenue, not as loans with interest. If the dredging was funded through a regular appropriation, the $7.5 million worth of work would cost $7.5 million, not $9.1 million. I also understand that we can’t appropriate everything on the bond wishlist using today’s funds, but that’s where setting priorities comes in.
Setting aside my philosophical qualms, thanks again to Rep. Ruggerio for the clarification and, more importantly, for taking leadership on this item.

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10 years ago

Three cheers, Marc! Well said.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

Almost an aside, I am wondering how much dredging can get done for $7.5 million? For comparison street constuction in new subdivisions, not highways, was up to almost $300 a lineal foot, might be lower now. I should think dredging would be more costly, perhaps it is simpler than I think.

10 years ago

Warrington, I might be wrong, but isn’t dredging usually done by the Army Corps of Engineers, not local shops with prevailing wage restrictions? I also wonder how far $7.5M will go.
Also, I noticed at low-tide that parts of the Providence River’s bed that I’ve never seen are poking-through the water, from the hurricane barrier all the way up to the mall. It seems to me that dredging that ought to be in the near-term plan, lest we have another major flood season or a hurricane. Dredging allows a lot more water to traverse downtown. What a shame it would be to have paid for Waterplace Park and the hurricane barrier only to have downtown streets and basements flood for lack of dredging.

10 years ago

Good points. The dredging project will remove 260,000 Cubic yards of material near the Davisville Piers. Here is a map of the area to be dredged, in the dark gray bordered by the red. bit.ly/x2AUbj
The ACOE does not dredge at Davisville. If they did, we would have to charge shippers a Harbor Maintenance Tax, which would increase costs and make Davisville significantly less competitive.
It’s also important to note that this is not a general obligation bond, but a revenue bond which will be financed completely with payments from port users and QDC revenues. There will be no direct cost to the taxpayer.
Thank you!

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