Plans for New Wind Port at Controversial South Quay Advance
July 20, 2020
Gov. Gina Raimondo is pushing new development to lift Rhode Island’s coronavirus-plagued economy out of recession. Among the proposals being embraced by the governor is a taxpayer-supported project proposed for a controversial waterfront site in East Providence.
Last week, two days after Raimondo outlined her RIse Together plan, the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation swiftly approved a $15 million tax credit to aid an East Providence port project for a controversial shoreline property.
The rectangular outcrop into upper Narragansett Bay known as the South Quay is considered one the most regrettable approvals by the Coastal Resources Management Council. In 1976, the Providence & Worcester Railroad received authorization from the state waterfront zoning board to infill 36 acres of Providence Harbor for a rail and shipping port. The tidal area was supplanted with stone and gravel, but the prominent artificial site sat idle for decades as proposals to build the wharf came and went.
In 2003, the parcel was placed under the jurisdiction of the East Providence Waterfront Special Development District — now the East Providence Waterfront Commission — and marketed by the city for commercial development. The Providence & Worcester Railroad sold the property to RI Waterfront Enterprises LLC in June 2019 for $4.5 million.
The new owner is a subsidiary of Mugar Enterprises Inc., a Boston-based development company with investments in shopping centers and entertainment venues such as the Orpheum Theatre in Boston. A portion of the property is slated for a waterfront entertainment venue, while the South Quay would serve as a staging area for offshore wind-energy development. This new port would partner with similar wind-staging areas at the Port of Providence and the Port of Davisville in North Kingstown.
RI Waterfront Enterprises has pledged to invest $25 million in cash and in-kind services for the $103 million project, including buying adjacent land that is part of the former fuel terminal owned by the Chevron Corp. Rhode Island’s $15 million investment is the maximum allowed through the Rhode Island Small Business Development Fund. The project would also receive a special sales-tax exemption. The remainder of the project’s costs would be paid through taxpayer money in the form of federal grants.
The $15 million in new funds are in addition to the $100,000 award RI Waterfront Enterprises received earlier this year from the Commerce Corporation. The Site Readiness Award paid for a study of a new port and its relationship with existing ports in Narragansett Bay.
The latest state funding was enthusiastically approved by the Commerce Corporation’s Investment Committee and its board of directors at their July 17 meetings. The vote by the Investment Committee was held in executive session.
“We’ve been the leader (in the offshore wind industry) and we need to keep doing this to stay the leader. So full speed ahead,” Commerce Corporation board member George Nee said. “Approve with a capital A.”
“It’s a prime place for development, and we are working hard to lure offshore wind manufactures to Rhode Island,” Raimondo said. “And the pitch that we are making is that Rhode Island really is America’s leader in offshore wind. So developments like this help us to fortify our leadership position.”
A formal plan for the project hasn’t been made public, but, according to Commerce Corporation documents, the South Quay Marine Terminal would be used to support the development, operations, and maintenance of new offshore wind projects such as Revolution Wind.
RI Waterfront Enterprises plans to install a 1,020-foot-long waterfront wall, a dock for ferry, fire, and harbormaster vessels, two concrete platforms for cargo and cranes, two deepwater berths, a small warehouse and administrative buildings, and an 8-acre heavy-load-bearing lay-down area. Up to 8 feet of fill will be applied to level and cap the site.
Project manager Melissa Martin has pledged to have the port completed by December 2022.
Permits and approvals will be required from East Providence, the Coastal Resources Management Council, Army Corps of Engineers and state agencies. Public hearings will also be held.
Save The Bay closely monitors the South Quay and takes issue with further structural intrusions into the water. The Providence-based environmental group has long preferred that the South Quay be dismantled and the shoreline allowed to renature.
RI Waterfront Enterprises says they don’t expect the project to further displace the harbor. And they plan to consult with Save The Bay throughout the approval and building process.
In January, the Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC), the largest wastewater treatment operation in Rhode Island, made overtures to acquire the South Quay by eminent domain and use the site as a permanent home for 600,000 cubic tons of rock and debris from construction of the third phase of NBC’s combined sewer overflow project.
NBC eventually withdrew the site from consideration.