Block Island turbine parts arrive at Port of Providence, RI
Block Island turbine parts arrive at Port of Providence, RI

In the business of marine terminal operations, the term multi-dimensional is often used to describe the capability of a marine terminal, stevedore or terminal operator to deal with a variety of commodities or modes of shipping. To justify this description, the terminals must be capable of handling breakbulk, bulk, ro-ro, or container cargoes in a combination that includes more than one of the above. Today, stevedores and terminal operators have to demonstrate the ability to handle cargo in virtually any form.
The Multi-dimensional Port

In the case of the largest multi-dimensional marine terminal in Rhode Island, the facility operated by ProvPort at the Port of Providence, wears this description extremely well. The main part of this marine terminal, operated by Waterson Stevedoring, is a deepwater facility with 40 feet of water alongside a marginal wharf that offers over 3,500 feet of linear berthing that is capable of handling six cargo vessels simultaneously. In addition, ProvPort offers 105 acres of storage and support buildings along with a variety of equipment to meet any challenge presented by their shipping customers.

The Port of Providence is extremely well positioned with both water and land access. The facility is located on Narragansett Bay, approximately 2.5 hours from the Benton Reef Pilot Station off Long Island Sound. The port can offer excellent rail access, as well as direct highway connections, along the I-95 corridor. The major markets, easily served, include Rhode Island, Northeast Connecticut, east, west and Northern Massachusetts.

Promoting itself as one of the two, truly deepwater ports in New England, the Port of Providence has evolved over the last 30 plus years. At one time, the port’s operators offered a seemingly credible challenge to the Port of Boston for its container business. At the time, the Port of Boston’s main container facility seemed to be floundering with congestion at its facility, and political and labor strife hampered progress. Efforts in Boston to re-develop a new container facility in South Boston, eventually quelled the strife and the Port of Providence went about its own business. The new facility at Boston’s Castle Island terminal was quickly planned, approved and constructed. The newly constructed facility as we know, has been instrumental in maintaining a dominant share of New England’s container business.

During the conflict, the vulnerability of the Port of Boston was utilized to bring private operators in Providence to the point of buying a used low profile container crane, declared excess by Matson Steamship Company in Oakland, California. The crane was never utilized for container operations but was eventually converted to handle scrap. Stevedoring company, Cooper T. Smith operated the crane for a number of years and it was eventually scrapped after a combined total (Oakland and Providence) of 30 years service.

Provport General Manager, Chris Waterson, indicates that the original hopes that Providence had for container business prior to the formation of Waterson Terminal Services and Provport, will most likely not be realized. The interest in a marine highway between New England and the Port of New York has diminished. He does, however, indicate that they are prepared should business be offered.

Waterson, the City of Providence and the State of Rhode Island, cooperated on the acquisition of a Tiger Grant for $20 million received in 2012. The goal set by the participants was to acquire two new Liebherr Mobile Cranes, a specialized barge that among other things, would accommodate the mobile crane. A special feature of the two Liebherr 550 Mobile Harbor Cranes is that they would be able to drive from the wharf directly onto the barge. The barge is also being designed with a special feature - a stabilization capability - so that it will be able to safely accept the crane as it is driven on. In addition, the Tiger Grant provided funding for two windmills that provide electric power to the marine terminal area.

Prior to the acquisition of the mobile harbor cranes, Waterson utilized 30-year old barge mounted gantry cranes, rented from New York crane and barge operator Weeks Marine, to load and unload a number of different bulk commodities including scrap. One of the cranes was permanently moored at the Port, while the second crane was brought to Providence when required. With the acquisition of the mobile harbor cranes, the barge cranes have been retired to Weeks’ facility in New Jersey.

Offshore Wind Farm

Possibly the most important business that Waterson and the State of Rhode Island have succeeded in attracting to date is the largest portion of the Block Island offshore wind farm project. This project, involving Rhode Island based industry and labor, will erect 15 offshore windmills, the first in the United States. The developer, Deepwater Wind, headquartered in Providence will own and manage the project, which has recently completed the first phase, the placement of the wind tower support structures. The marine terminal facilities at Quonset Point were key in the load-out and support of these five sub-structures. Offshore work has been suspended for the winter season after completion of the last sub-structure in late November.

Waterson has provided land at the Port of Providence for the construction of a temporary facility that will serve as the assembly site for the wind turbines and towers. These components will be assembled, loaded and floated by barge to the site off the Rhode Island coast near Block Island. The offshore wind project is expected to be completed by late this year.

Waterson recently provided stevedoring and crane services, unloading the huge tower sections which when fully assembled will be 270’ long and will weigh 440 tons. They will also provide load-out capability for the components that will be barged to the wind farm site and erected. The Liebherr mobile harbor cranes owned by Waterson and two larger Liebherr cranes, one a model 1600, that have been rented especially for this project will be utilized to load out the 15 towers. Providence ILA labor has to date, unloaded most of the tower sections and will participate in the load out.

Chris Waterson, General Manager, of Waterson Terminal Services, indicates that, “The Windmill project has been an exciting part of the Port of Providence’s history that will serve to highlight the multi-dimensional capabilities of both stevedoring and labor at ProvPort. We feel the experience gained during this project will put the port in a strong position to support future offshore wind development.”

Besides the wind farm components, Provport handles a wide variety of bulk commodities including salt, scrap, cement, aluminum oxide, copper slag and cobblestones. In addition general cargo includes used automobiles (ro-ro services) and various breakbulk commodities. The liquid bulk portion includes SPG, Caustic Soda and petroleum products.