Quonset Container Port still makes no sense or cents.

Over the last few months the Providence Journal has published repeated comments stating that RI would be well served by developing larger port facilities, including a container port.  I was a stakeholder when the the RI Economic Development Corporation held its large stakeholder process on port development in 2000 and 2001, and have continued to follow this issue closely.

Lets be clear, the original proposal to build a container port at Quonset failed primarily because the State of RI brought in a couple of con men as its lead contractors, men who had been tossed out of ports around the world.  They said if you give us the approval we can find private funders to build the port.  There were no private funders for this project, and never will be.

In fact if one were to look carefully at the situation today, it is less likely than ever that private money could be found to build a container port in RI, and in fact the entire financial structure of global trade is more and more shaky.

My original opposition to the port was based on the fact that increasing the amount of global shipping is an ecological disaster on a global scale.  On Jan 27, 2009 there was an article in the Boston Globe pointing out the invasive species issues are worse than ever, and that no solution is in sight.  Global warming is more and more of an issue, and with shipping emitting more than 5% of global CO2 emissions, we have to ask why increase that.  Much of what is put on container ships is made with sweat shop labor and at a price of continued destruction of rainforests through out Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The assumption that we need more ports is based on the assumption that economic growth will go on forever.  But over the last 30 years humans have begun to consume on a yearly basis 120% of the global biological productivity, which has lead to massive destruction of fisheries and forests, greater dead zones in the oceans, and soil erosion.  What it has also lead to is a situation in which creating economic growth is harder and harder, which has lead to the housing and financial bubble we are now dealing with.  As growth became more difficult due to resource depletion, the economy leaned more and more heavily on financial trickery to pump up the growth.  On paper there is lots of growth, but in reality the poor are getting poorer, the middle class is being squeezed, and the very wealthy were making out like bandits until the banks collapsed.  If the growth was real everyone would have been sharing in it.

Given these conditons, a long term stalling of the economy, the need to relocalize the economy, the need to reduce fuel consumption and repair our ecosystems, and the total unlikelihood of finding millions or even billions of dollars of private capital to build a port, it seems to make very little sense to put the RI taxpayers on the hook to build something that will only contribute to the faster destruction of ecosystems and the continued shipping of RI manufacturing jobs overseas.  If building a container port really made economic and ecological sense there would be more to this discussion than Ed Achorn beating his drum.  The Providence Journal ought to really do some due diligence on this project.  Get a real handle on the numbers, look at what will come through the port if it is built, understand how it will contribute to climate change, deforestation, and air pollution, garner a real understanding of how it will effect RI manufacturing and the pay scales of jobs created here servicing it versus what we lose.  Then tell us who is going to pay for it.  My guess is that it is a loser and that is why no one has shown up with the money and why no one has really convened a process to examine it closely.

Greg Gerritt
37 6th St  Providence RI 02906

Greg Gerritt  is the founder of the think tank Prosperity for Rhode Island

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