“Can we talk?”

The Editorial in the August 28th edition of Rhode Island’s PROVIDENCE JOURNAL was headlined, “Savannah’s vision”. The writer of that piece commended far-sighted Georgia leaders, criticized Rhode Island’s short-sighted yacht-club crowd, and without saying so, called into question the decision of a number of port authorities and communities that have taken a wait-and-see attitude.

The editorial points out that, even though Savannah was once a fading, out-of-the-way port, 23 miles from the ocean, the vision and daring of far-sighted Georgia leaders have created an economic powerhouse. Among other things, the port;
• generates $ 1.4 billion a year in state and local tax revenue,
• produces about 120,000 jobs, ranging from $ 12 an hour to $ 120,000 annually,
• increased its volume from 550,000 containers in 1994 to 1.7 million containers last year,
• persuaded large retailers to build distribution centers around the port,
• attracted shipping companies to work from those distribution centers,
• and has even proved to be a tourist attraction.

Rhode Island is in a position to advance itself in much the same way that Savannah is doing because of the deficiencies up in the Port of Boston. Boston, because it is “the Hub” of New England, leaves a lot to be desired if your concern is trucking 40-footers to-and-from the water’s edge. Quite frankly, the “lot to be desired” is a more accessible location … something like a former U.S. Navy port … something like a Quonset Point/Davisville, Rhode Island, for example. A perfect spot. It’s like being out in the boon-docks, and it’s only eight miles from the sea buoy. But so far, says the editor, the embarrassingly short-sighted and provincial attitude of everyone from the Governor on down has pulled the plug on efforts to make use of Rhode Island’s geographic blessings.

But there’s a little more to the story. Put yourself in the shoes of a Narragansett Bay resident. If there’s a more beautiful setting in the world, by the way, we’ve yet to see it. Now suppose that you had a say in the matter when Rhode Island authorities were advised by maritime consultants that a container terminal at the Quonset Point-Davisville site would require; from 290 to 390 existing acres plus an additional 126 to 200 “filled” acres; funding in the range of $ 265 million to $ 350 million; a construction period of 3 to 5 years; and “quite a bit of dredging”. Even though a simple reading of that advisory would indicate to you that everything therein was highly speculative and not the result of accurate or qualified analysis, there’s no way Narragansett Bay would retain its pristine beauty if this costly, time-consuming and space-consuming project were to be undertaken. And there’s no way you or any of your neighbors or any of the yacht-club crowd would approve of this kind of a container terminal. $ 350 million and whatever it costs for “quite a bit of dredging”? “Poor Little Rhode Island” would be poorer than ever.

But what about a container terminal that would generate 15,000 more jobs but would require only 20 acres? And no dredging. And no “filled” acres. And no giant container ships. And no funding. That’s right, NO FUNDING! [As Joan Rivers would put it, “Can we talk?”]