Quonset dredging project to improve RI ship access

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. -- A $7.5 million dredging project designed to allow ships to more easily access Quonset's Port of Davisville is getting under way _ with the scoop of a massive dredging bucket that can lift two dump trucks' worth of material at a time.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and House Speaker Gordon Fox on Thursday toured a dredging vessel called "The 53" to mark the start of the project, which will entail scooping some 260,000 cubic yards of material from the channel's bottom.

The state's Economic Development Corp. in June approved floating $7.5 million in bonds for the project, which will be repaid with revenue from the port and Quonset Business Park. About 150,000 cars are shipped to the port every year, making it one of the nation's largest handlers of imported automobiles, and officials say that returning the channel to a depth of 32 feet should allow the large car carriers better access.

Before donning a hard hat, safety glasses and a bright orange vest to tour the vessel, which once helped dredge a new channel at the Panama Canal, Fox called Quonset a "crown jewel" of economic development in Rhode Island. He said the dredging project, expected to be completed by the end of January, is a "smart way to invest in infrastructure and keep this port thriving and growing."

Steven King, managing director of the Quonset Development Corp., said that $30 million in improvements have been made to the port over the last four years and that the dredging project should allow officials to continue the momentum there.

The dredging bucket, which weighs 43,000 pounds, can scoop 10,000 cubic yards of material _ enough to fill about two dump trucks _ in just over a minute. The material will be loaded onto another vessel and transported to a site in Rhode Island Sound. Crews will work around the clock.

Chafee said one of his top economic development priorities is infrastructure, and he cited other examples at Quonset, including a freight line improvement project.

"These are big investments that prepare Rhode Island for a better future," he said.

Quonset is home to 168 companies that employee some 8,800 people.