Rhode Island (in the) Red

Two weeks ago we reprinted Vol. IV, Art. 28, “Can we talk?” We were encouraged to do so because of renewed interest in the construction of a container port in Rhode Island’s beautiful Narragansett Bay. It’s not just local residents that were squaring off again over the issue, however. It so happens that the container port issue is being moved to the front burner by individuals who have gained public office because of their concern for the general welfare of the state and its citizens. And they have a ton of clout …. House Speaker William Murphy and House Majority Leaser Gordon Fox.

The Port of Davisville in Narragansett Bay is without a doubt the most likely site on the Eastern Seaboard for a new container port, and the pros and cons of the question have been debated by Rhode Island residents for the better part of ten years. Even though former governor Lincoln Almond supported those who endorsed a container facility at the former navy base, those who opposed the structure protested strongly and vociferously, and even succeeded in convincing current governor Carcieri to reject the proposed facility.

In all fairness to the environmentalists, as well as to those in a “not-in-my-backyard” frame of mind, however, it’s easy to see why the container port, as described by consultants, met with public resistance. News reports summarized the published recommendations and requirements in this way:
• The facility would take up from 290 to 390 existing acres.
• An additional 126 to 200 acres of “filled” land would also be needed.
• Funding in the range of $ 265,000,000 to $ 350,000,000 would be required.
• It would take from 3 to 5 years to complete the construction of the proposed facility.
• And finally, the unthinkable … Narragansett Bay would require “quite a bit of dredging”.

As we saw it, “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.”

With or without that monstrosity, ‘Poor Little Rhode Island” is, indeed, becoming poorer than ever. The “Pawtucket Times” made that pretty clear in a report by Times staff writer Jim Baron. He revealed that “Leaders in both chambers of the General Assembly, however, can’t seem to take their eyes off the $ 350 million hole in the state’s $ 6 billion budget and that deficit is likely to dominate the coming legislative session. There seems to be general agreement that the budget for the current fiscal year is at this point in the red to the tune of about $ 106 million. For fiscal year 2008, the shortfall is an estimated $ 244 million.” … which explains the renewed interest in the container port. [After all, didn’t the Port of Oakland’s Wilson Lacy refer to a container port as a ‘gold mine’?]
So now the ones with “clout” … Speaker William Murphy and House Majority Leader Gordon Fox … are taking the gloves off. And we’re taking our hats off to them.