Restoring 225 acres of abandoned U.S. Navy property spanning three communities turned out to be too large and complicated for a single redevelopment project.
So Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth are going their separate ways to reuse Aquidneck Island’s Navy surplus land with its vacant, old hospital, empty fields, crumbling piers and abandoned tank farms stretching across the west side of Aquidneck Island.
Roughly six years after the Navy first announced it would unload the land, the three communities last fall ended a joint planning and redevelopment process first launched in 2010.
Instead, they’ll each focus on the land within their borders and negotiate buying it from the federal government individually.
“The hard part is all the properties are very different,” said Middletown Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown. “The Portsmouth tank farms are large and have considerable environmental challenges, while the Middletown Navy Lodge is ready to be transferred, is only 3 acres and in the most important commercial area of the town.”
Before focusing on their individual projects, the three towns had been exploring a joint partnership with the Navy called an Economic Development Conveyance.
Created to help communities suffering from the economic effects of base closings, this type of partnership would have allowed the towns to take control of the surplus land at minimal upfront cost.
The Navy, as partners, would receive payment for the land only after it is redeveloped and, as a result, would be working with the communities to see it put to productive use.
On Aquidneck Island, the chief stumbling block to a three-town combined economic-development conveyance was the poor condition of the Portsmouth tank farms compared with the properties further south.
Home to 22 empty fuel tanks, nine of them underground, the tank-farm properties in Portsmouth are undergoing an extensive environmental cleanup by the Navy.
After numerous delays, the tank-farm cleanup is scheduled to start this year with an estimated completion date of 2016 or 2017, according to Lisa M. Woodbury Rama, spokeswoman for Naval Station Newport. Even then, the 145 acres in the two tank farms will need future monitoring and use restrictions.