By PAUL J. SPETRINI
The Quonset Development Corporation has been lauded over the past few years for its long-term planning and commitment to its future vision of the Quonset Business Park and, thanks to some much-needed federal money, one of the QDC’s main objectives—maintaining and repairing infrastructure— is about to get a whole lot easier.
Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank announced Monday that the Economic Development Administration (EDA) would be awarding $7.3 million in grants to Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wyoming, to help “communities in those states recover economically from recent natural disasters.”
The bulk of the money, however, will be staying local as the EDA awarded the QDC and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) with $6 million to fund the reconstruction of the Zarbo Avenue Bulkhead, which was already in deteriorated condition prior to taking a beating by tropical storm Irene in 2011.
According to the Department of Commerce, the repair will “expand available waterfront industrial property and reduce the area’s vulnerability to future storm-related disasters,”
“This federal funding will help rebuild the bulkhead, prevent future flood damage and strengthen Rhode Island’s economy by creating jobs and attracting further business and investment,” U.S. Senator Jack Reed said in the release.
“The port at Quonset is a valuable asset for our state’s economy,” U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse added. “This funding will give businesses at Quonset peace of mind that their property is safe from storm damage, protecting existing jobs and encouraging the development of dozens more. Adding to the new control tower, pier and crane, it will help keep Quonset an economic engine for Rhode Island.”
QDC Planning Manager Katherine Trapani estimates that the investment will save a large number of local jobs and create as many as 32 new ones while generating close to “$4 million in private investment.”
“We’re pretty happy about it,” Trapani said Tuesday. “We’ve been pretty successful getting federal grants the last few years and a lot of what we do here is maintain our existing infrastructure and it’s not a new facility, it’s maintenance of an existing facility and it’s saving 80 existing jobs.”
Representative Jim Langevin says the investment is a much needed one for the state.
“Our ports are among the state’s strongest assets and, with a strong marine trades industry, have the potential to produce more economic activity,” Langevin said Tuesday. “However, we must show the industry that we are proactively taking steps to improve opportunities in Quonset and at all of our ports. This funding, which goes above and beyond simply rebuilding the original bulkhead, demonstrates our commitment to creating the best possible environment for these businesses.”
The Zarbo Avenue Bulkhead was built in 1941 and, according to Trapani, had already gone a “a little bit beyond its useful life,” prior to Irene, which was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it hit Rhode Island at the end of August last year.
“It really was in a deteriorated condition before the hurricane but that makes it all the more vulnerable to storm damage,” Trapani said.
Despite the relative calm once the storm made landfall in RI, the effect it had on the bulkhead was major.
“The whole bulkhead was topped, the whole area was flooded and some of the backbuild washed away,” Trapani said. “And so they had to re-grade and fill in behind the bulkhead.”
Trapani and the QDC saw the announcement last summer that the EDA was accepting for applications for money appropriated by Congress for disaster recovery and wasted little time sending their request in.
“It fit the grant criteria,” she said. “And we were very honest in the application that the bulkhead was already deteriorated because of its age and it is vulnerable to future storm damage.”
Apparently the EDA agreed.
“We are (ecstatic),” Trapani said. “These companies that lease properties on the bulkhead, these are the companies that, when you do have a storm help in the recovery, these are the companies that will fix the bridges and the docks and the dams so we definitely want to have business continuity with these particular types of firms. Every tenant is important at the industrial park and we really do our best to rebuild what we need to rebuild and then maintain it.”
Langevin says the investment is particularly important given the increased nature of serious weather-related events in the state.
“As Rhode Islanders know all too well, major storms are becoming more frequent, providing a stark reminder of the impact of climate change,” he said. “It is incumbent upon us to take precautions to mitigate future vulnerabilities. This grant will help protect existing and future businesses located along the waterfront industrial property and could reduce the recovery expenses of future storms.”
Construction, which will take place in phases to mitigate the impact it has on businesses in the park, is scheduled to begin this summer and finish up in the fall of 2014.