Finance Committee recommends further amendments to ProvPort tax agreement

A PANEL OF PROVIDENCE CITY COUNCIL members on Thursday recommended changes to a proposed revenue-sharing agreement with ProvPort Inc. aimed at strengthening environmental protections and communication with the city and residents. PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO

PROVIDENCE – After initial accusations that the prior Providence City Council rushed to pass a controversial tax agreement with the city’s main port operator, the new set of lawmakers are taking their time to review, and strengthen, the proposal.

A panel of City Council members on Thursday recommended several changes to the revenue-sharing agreement with ProvPort Inc., while making it clear there are more amendments coming. The 30-year tax agreement with ProvPort already received first passage by the prior council in December but needs a second approval to become final.

The tax agreement is coupled with a lease extension that has already been approved by the council but is not considered effective until both deals are approved. Together, the agreements extend by 30 years ProvPort’s control of the 135-acre swath of portside land, laying out a revenue-sharing agreement in lieu of annual property tax payments to the city and authorizing the Providence Redevelopment Agency to issue bonds for portside capital improvement and expansion projects. (ProvPort, a holding company, bought the land for $16.4 million in 1994 but has since leased it to the city-controlled Providence Redevelopment Agency, which in turn issues tax-free bonds to pay the city and then sublease the land back to ProvPort.)

The proposals drew mounting criticism from community residents and environmental advocates, both for the haste of the prior council’s initial approval and lack of detail within the agreements around environmental and safety concerns from the heavy industrial activities.

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The versions of the agreements given preliminary approval in December sought to incorporate some of this feedback, with amendments banning fossil fuel expansion at ProvPort and defining the types of community projects that will be funded through a portion of the tax revenue, among other changes. 

Amendments recommended by the council’s Finance Committee Thursday enhance these protections further, while requiring more communication between the city and ProvPort. Specific changes included a more robust community input process – with a minimum of four community meetings, as well as a public hearing before the full City Council – on the proposed master plan, once developed. The finance committee also recommended changes that would ensure the city has the most up-to-date information about ProvPort’s tenants: who they are, when their leases expire and if they have violated any environmental laws.

The extra reporting requirements come weeks after one ProvPort tenant, Univar Solutions USA Inc., agreed to an $800,000 settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for not following safety protocols for toxic chemicals across four sites, including two in Providence.

Council members grilled representatives with Waterson Terminal Services, which manages the port, about Univar’s violations, which date back to 2016 but only just came to the attention of the port, and the city, this year.

“That’s the age of a toddler,” said Councilwoman Shelley Peterson, referring to the amount of time that has passed since Univar began defying environmental standards. 

Councilor Juan Pichardo, who also serves on the finance committee, questioned if the company is now following the rules.

Health and safety concerns, along with environmental impacts, have dominated community fears about the port, which includes the tenants of ProvPort along with a separate strip of waste recycling and metal companies along the waterfront section of Allens Avenue. 

Chris Waterson, general manager for Waterson Terminal Services, has repeatedly sought to distinguish tenants within the port from those along Allens Avenue, the latter of which face the most public backlash.

ProvPort has also committed to not adding more fossil fuel tenants within its space (there are three there now) as part of the proposed tax agreement.

“It’s incumbent on ProvPort and Waterson Terminal Services to analyze highest and best use of property when a lease comes up for renewal,” Waterson said, adding that it might be a better deal to end a lease with a fossil fuel-using company to bring in “a different type of tenant.” 

While the new tax agreement carves out 1% of the annual tax revenue for “community needs,” with a specific $25,000 allotment for the Ward 10 neighborhood closest to the port, council members from other neighborhoods sought to get a piece of the pie for their communities, too.

Pichardo, who represents Ward 9, said his constituents are still within a mile of Allens Avenue and suffer the same health and safety harms as those who live close.

Councilmembers agreed to consider future amendments that would extend funding to Wards 8 and 9, as requested by those council members.

Another 1% of the tax revenue will be set aside for sustainability needs, including air quality and environmental remediation.

The new tax agreement would increase the percentage of revenue ProvPort pays the city from 5% per year to 9%, with an expected payment of $840,000 in the first year of the new agreement, to Nicholas Hemond, the attorney for Waterson Terminal Services. In comparison, ProvPort would pay $769,000 in city property taxes based on its current assessed value.

Meanwhile, the 30-year lease extension aims to pave the way for a planned $11 million in capital improvements and expansion, to be paid for through new bonds issued by the Providence Redevelopment Agency. The bond money will also help ProvPort develop a master plan outlining its future growth and expansion plans, which in turn will let it tap into the massive amounts of federal infrastructure and renewable energy funding recently made available, Hemond said previously.

The City Council had not scheduled the required second vote on the tax agreement as of Thursday. If approved, the tax and lease agreements would stand until 2052.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at

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  1. I’m not sure I understand what this statement is saying “ProvPort, Inc. a holding company, bought the land for $16.4 million in 1994 but has since leased it to the city-controlled Providence Redevelopment Agency, which in turn issues tax-free bonds to pay the city and then sublease the land back to ProvPort” and if I don’t understand it, I doubt that the Fin Comm does.
    BTW, if ProPort is the ultimate owner of the property, shouldn’t the “rental” payments made to ProvPort by the PRA be reduced by the $11 million that the PRA is spending “in capital improvements and expansion” of the property.