As the nation’s largest ports jockey for the new supersized cargo ships being built for a widening Panama Canal, maneuvering on a much smaller scale is happening in southern New England ports hoping to catch the spillover.
At the Port of Davisville in North Kingstown, the Quonset Development Corporation has bought a new mobile harbor crane, dredged the dockage area, hired a terminal operator and upgraded the pier and its rail connection in the past year.
Further up the bay in Providence, ProvPort officials are leveraging $10.5 million in federal funds to grow their own cargo traffic with two new harbor cranes and rail-line improvements.
And across the border in Massachusetts, New Bedford is also making a major play for shipping with a planned 28-acre, $100 million marine-commerce terminal being built by the state.
Providence has the longest history as a shipping port of the three locations, but Quonset is the furthest advanced in its expansion plans.
After receiving the new harbor crane in June, Quonset officials are working out customs procedures and, crucially, negotiating with cargo carriers to bring regular ship traffic to the port.
Once those routine shipping routes are established to Davisville, Quonset leaders see the capacity to move container cargo by sea as a major draw for Rhode Island companies inside and outside the business park.
“Our goal is to provide a different mode of transport for Rhode Island companies, another route that is more cost competitive,” said QDC Executive Director Steven J. King about the port expansion, which utilizes $22.7 million in federal grants.
“The first thing is to make our existing business community more effective and then make Quonset more attractive,” King added. “Then there is also the direct benefit of jobs created on the dock and terminal.”
ProvPort, a public-private partnership between Providence and Waterson Terminal Services, is awaiting the arrival of two mobile harbor cranes this spring that city officials hope will boost the port’s current bulk exporting traffic and also help grow now-limited exports.
“These cranes are a bet on starting to become an exporter,” said Providence Economic Development Director James Bennett. “Now it is about creating jobs, because manufacturing will want to be closer to the port because it’s cheaper to ship goods. We’re taking advantage of Interstate 95 without the traffic of Boston.”