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RI gets $22M in stimulus money to upgrade port

The port at Quonset Point will receive more than $22 million to improve its dock and buy cranes so it can accommodate a wind turbine developer, serve container cargo ships and create jobs in a state with nearly 13 percent unemployment, officials said Wednesday.

The federal stimulus money is meant to support Deepwater Wind LLC, which hopes to build a massive wind farm off the coast, and increase the cargo freight business, said Steven King, managing director of Quonset Development Corp.

Although the U.S. Department of Transportation said it approved the money for renewable energy and shipping projects at the port, it has not made clear exactly which funding requests were accepted, King said. The port originally requested about $45 million in assistance.
One major project is buying a large, mobile crane that can lift up to 200 tons, King said. The pier will have to reinforced to accommodate the heavy loads.

That crane is especially important to wind energy developer Deepwater Wind LLC, which signed an agreement with Gov. Don Carcieri’s administration to build a wind farm miles off the Rhode Island coast. As part of the deal, Deepwater agreed to create a manufacturing hub at Quonset that officials hope will eventually employ as many as 800 workers.

Building the wind turbines will require a crane, said Paul Rich, Deepwater’s chief development officer.
Rich said he considered the funding a vote of confidence since no one in the U.S. has built an offshore wind farm. The most advanced proposal is a project to build 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound off Cape Cod in neighboring Massachusetts.

“This award today is, I think, an instrumental step in saying, ‘We’re willing to put our money where our mouth is and help launch this industry,'” he said.
The same crane could be used to load and offload containers from cargo ships.

Other funding will be used to improve railroad access to the pier and build roads leading to the site leased by Deepwater Wind.

Political leaders across Rhode Island are hoping the port and industrial park at Quonset Point will prove one of the state’s best chances for economic growth during a deep recession. The state’s entire Congressional delegation lobbied for the money.

“This funding will help our state harness the potential of the new clean energy economy and put hundreds of Rhode Islanders to work in cutting-edge industries,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat, in a written statement.