The “gold mine” of today …

This is the beginning of a new year and we’re still waiting for someone with the right combination of brains and guts to show port officials how to get it right. Our waiting may be over.

Our final 2006 commentary mentioned the interest being shown in the construction of a new container handling facility on the site of the former Quonsett Point/Davisville Navy base in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. The idea had been promoted and discussed a half-dozen times in recent years, and although opposing stances were many-faceted, the question of funding was the real reason proponents backed off.

Cost estimates for the construction of a medium-sized container terminal at the Port of Davisville ranged from $ 350 million to $ 600 million, and if this wasn’t enough to scare Rhode Islanders, environmentalists chipped in with customary doomsday predictions. The real doomsday is rearing its ugly head right now, however. Jim Baron’s report in the “Pawtucket Times” indicated that the state’s budget shortfall for the current fiscal year is $ 106 million, but even worse, next year’s shortfall is estimated to be about $ 244 million.

After hearing from House Finance Committee Chairman Steven Costantino that the average tax-paying worker in Rhode Island earns 10% less than his or her counterpart in neighboring Massachusetts, House Speaker Murphy and House Majority Leader Gordon Fox decided to take center stage.

“Where do we have good-paying blue-collar jobs in Rhode Island?”, Speaker Murphy asked. “Where are the jobs for the middle-class?”

“We’ve got to grow the pie by job growth and other means,” Majority Leader Fox submitted, “… and Quonset has to play a role in that. It is one of the largest developable pieces of property under state control.” Quonset is the closest port to Europe in America, he reminded the General Assembly, and he stated that he would consider a port built and operated by the state. “If you don’t utilize it for that, or at least take a look at it, are you doing everything you can to grow the pie?”

This is the combination of brains and guts we had in mind. It’s obvious that both of these dedicated public servants knew about the effort being made on the part of the Port of Oakland to convince the Port of Humboldt Bay’s Harbor District Board of Governors, after that board expressed an interest in developing a container terminal in order to increase jobs, that a partnership should be formed so that both ports could capitalize on the region’s rapidly increasing shipping trade.

The question had been asked, rhetorically, “Can the Port of Humboldt Bay be a participant in the new ‘Silk Road’, as experts predict West Coast shipping trade with China will triple by 2020?”

Mr. Wilson Lacy, the Port of Oakland’s Maritime Director, provided the answer simply and pointedly when he admitted that “container terminals are the gold mine of today”.