2010-08-19 / Letters to the Editor

Assembly not experts on maritime activities

Recently, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a bill requiring a clearance of no less than 30 feet under the bridges in Narragansett Bay. While many of you may not find fault with our legislature striving to protect our bridges, there are a number of reasons that this bill is nothing shy of arrogant and ignorant.

For starters, it is obvious that this bill has nothing to do with bridge safety. This bill is an overt attempt to block LNG shipments through the Bay. Regardless of how you feel about these proposed shipments, it’s hard to deny that this kind of arrogant obstruction of commerce for no good reason goes far beyond the limits of the Constitution.

Additionally, I recall watching the Dockwise vessel MIGHTY SERVANT 2 departing the bay carrying our America’s Cup boats overseas. This vessel actually placed a crewmember at the top of a mast to ensure it would clear the bridge (clearing far less than 30 feet). There was no outcry, from the public or legislature. On the contrary, actually, there was excitement and even jubilee.

As if that was not enough, the bill conflicts with the ordinary practice and comfort level of our professional harbor pilots. The pilots have stated that a clearance as little as 1-foot is acceptable and safe. For those who don’t know, all of our pilots hold licenses as “Unlimited Master” and have actually been a ship’s master. This is a title and position that is only obtained through experience-- usually at least 10 years. On top of their experience, to even qualify to be hired as a pilot one must demonstrate knowledge, by memory, of the location of each buoy, underwater cable, and shallow spot. To call these mariners experts does not give enough credit. I would ask that anyone point me in the direction of a legislator with this kind of expertise.

It has also been stated that nowhere else is LNG carried so far inland, in such a densely populated area. This notion is simply shortsighted. There are many LNG facilities in populated areas. For instance, Tokyo is a port-of-call for one fully loaded LNG tanker every 24 hours. I do believe Tokyo to be densely populated and quite a busy harbor. Closer to home, there is an LNG terminal in Boston, a major metropolitan city, the most densely populated in New England. LNG has been shipped to Boston since 1971, under the Tobin Bridge which, I might add, has the same vertical clearance as the Mt. Hope Bridge and is also quite close to the storage facility.

Isn’t it time we listened to the experts? Isn’t it time to hush the fearful cries of “concerned” politicians with nothing to go on except their ill-founded fear of a weekend on their yacht disrupted?
Shawn Ouellette

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