The Ocean State.
That’s our claim to fame, but outside of the summertime beach excursions and Newport walking tours, what makes us the Ocean State? Sure, proximity is a factor, but how often do we really use our coastline?
The Providence coastline is dotted by industrial parks heaped with scrap metal, junk parts and abandoned buildings. The other side of the Allens Avenue stretch of coast is lined with adult bars and bookstores.
And then there’s the Quonset/Davisville Port.
The other evening, Senators gathered at the yearly Economic Summit, which was held at the Quonset “O” Club. While they chatted about growing and developing the ports, and discussed how to expand the Point, just a short distance outside the doors of the club was a prime example of how poorly Rhode Island is utilizing the coast.
Just outside the Quonset compound, a new shopping center has been built at the far end of Post Road in North Kingstown. Aside from a Dave’s Marketplace, a Subway and a nail salon, the huge expanse of retail space is a ghost town. A former Lowe’s Home Improvement store sits vacant in the far reaches of the parking lot. There are one or two hotels, a Burger King and a pizza place, but other than that, the area is desolate. Spooky.
Meanwhile, inside the Quonset “O” next to the glow of a faux fireplace, senators talked about improving the port and job growth. Hopefully, they mean it.
Rhode Island’s valuable coastline is currently going to waste. The beaches are a seasonal attraction, but the industrial ports can mean yearlong commerce – and we’re not doing enough to use them to their full potential.
Take, for example, the fact that the Davisville piers area has not been dredged since 1977. The port, which is currently the seventh-largest auto importer port in the U.S., is in danger of losing that rank. That’s because new car-carrier ships require a larger draft, which the port would be unable to accommodate.
The governor and joint legislative port study commission are pushing for $7.5 million in revenue bonds to fund dredging, which would otherwise have to be done by the Army Corps of Engineers, and could mean a 10-year (or more) wait. Furthermore, if the state dredges, it can maintain its Harbor Maintenance Tax exemption giving it a significant competitive edge.
Hopefully, state leaders will take this opportunity to act now, or yet again get left in the wake of other competing ports.
With unemployment at a higher rate than our neighboring coastal states, and our annual wages lower than those same neighbors, we need to set sail on a new era of maritime commerce. Let’s get cracking and turn our ports into thriving hubs of commerce that will let us fully epitomize “The Ocean State.”