Ensuring Access

Walaska bill would create collaborative to advocate for RI ports


It’s been said before and will be said again that Narragansett Bay is Rhode Island’s greatest asset. But usually people are thinking in terms of pleasure boating, sailing regattas, sport fishing and tourism.

Senator William Walaska is looking at the bay from another perspective – commercial shipping – and he believes the industry needs an advocate.

“It would be like a port chamber of commerce,” Walaska said Friday of legislation he has introduced to create the “The Rhode Island Port Marketing Collaborative.”

As he explained it, the collaborative that he expects would be appointed by the governor would bring those with commercial interests in the state’s ports together. He also sees regulatory agencies such as the Department of Environmental Management, Economic Development Council and Coastal Resources Management Council as having a role on the collaborative. The group would develop and maintain a strategic plan for the state’s ports, facilities and maritime trades, with a special focus on job creation.

Walaska has seen firsthand the need for greater advocacy for the state’s ports and what efforts on behalf of the ports can do.

Walaska, who co-chaired a commission that studied and made recommendations for future development of the state’s ports, said “the continued growth at Davisville and the future growth that will result because of the Assembly-supported dredging work are examples of what can happen when we re-focus our attention on our state’s greatest resources – the waterfront, ports and maritime industries.”

When the commission started work on the Davisville project, Walaska discovered, “We weren’t even on the map.” He said that Rhode Island was not on the marine highway even though its ports were getting business.

Dredging at Davisville was completed with a revenue bond that will be paid by user assessments and rents. Had the state turned to the Army Corps of Engineers and federal funding, port users would have been required to pay a harbor maintenance tax and the state would have lost a significant advantage it has. Davisville is ranked as one of the country’s larger ports for the import of automobiles. New cars not only come in by sea for preparation for sale, but also by rail, Walaska pointed out.

In issuing its final report last year, the commission Walaska co-chaired found that development of port infrastructure and growth of maritime industries could result in the creation of more than 1,000 new jobs, $70 million in personal income, $127 million in business revenue and $8.1 million in new state and local tax revenues in coming years.

When talking about state ports, Walaska is not limiting his reach to cargo on the Ports of Providence and Davisville.

“Galilee is part of it with fishing,” he said. Nor is he excluding Newport and its ability to attract major yachting events or as a destination for cruise ships.


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