By PAUL J. SPETRINI
NORTH KINGSTOWN—The Quonset Development Corporation (QDC) has been heralded by local, state and federal officials for years over the way their long-term planning has turned the former military base at Quonset into one of the country’s fastest growing business areas.
Now, however, the QDC is facing criticism over its decision to select a Rhode Island-based company to manage shipping operations in the Port of Davisville.
In a pair of letters sent to elected officials and members of the media last week, Rhody Transportation & Warehousing, a trucking company based out of the business park, and Seafreeze, a frozen fish company, both denounced the QDC’s decision to award port operating duties to the Ocean State-based R.I. Port Services instead of Eimskip, a company headquartered in Iceland with most of its U.S. operations located in Virginia.
The two companies said the decision was “difficult to comprehend considering the current economic status” of Rhode Island.
At issue was a proposal by Eimskip to operate the pier that QDC representative David Preston said asked for “an exclusive, private lease to operate the proposed container terminal at the Port
“Their proposal included a 10-year agreement that could be ended at their option, at which point QDC would have to reimburse the company for any and all improvements the company made to the Port,” Preston said in response to the pair of letters. “Further, the proposal envisioned the creation of three jobs (3.1 full time equivalents). This proposal was obviously unacceptable, and QDC rejected it on behalf of the taxpayers, and the other port customers.”
Preston contends that Eimskip’s request for proposal (RFP) called for fencing off and building a building on nearly half of Pier 2 that would have given the company control of the pier and allowed it to dictate the terms by which other companies could use it.
Preston argued that such a decision would go against everything the QDC has done in recent years to manage and encourage the growth at Quonset.
“To give away almost half of the pier would hinder everything else that’s going on there so that’s why their proposal doesn’t work,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
Preston likened the QDC allowing Eimskip to have control of the pier to the state giving away one of the lanes on Rt. 95, a piece of the State House lawn or one of the runways at TF Greene Airport.
“We can’t give away almost half of the pier, and certainly not without an RFP, to a private company for them to use as they would like,” he said. “It would really in the long run have a seriously negative effect on the growth of the port.”
Seafreeze and Rhody Transportation contend this that this interpretation of Eimskip’s plans is not true.
“QDC claims that Eimskip wanted to have exclusive rights to operate the container business in Davisville. This is not true,” Seafreeze representative Geir Monsen said in his letter. “Eimskip has explained in written detail how they would service and cooperate with all potential port users and also stated that QDC needs more than one container shipping operation to get an appropriate return on investment.”
Monsen, who admitted his company stands to gain financially if Eimskip were awarded the contract, argued that the company would have created 150 local jobs and that the Port would have benefitted from having a constant source of revenue once Eimskip began bringing its containers through Davisville.
“QDC has claimed that they would lose money if they entered into an agreement with Eimskip,” Monsen said. “It is hard to understand how you will lose money by getting some income and not lose money getting zero income.”
Preston said Tuesday that the QDC continues to talk with Eimskip about bringing its cargo to the Port and its decision to go with R.I. Port Services should have no bearing on those discussions.
“What it boiled down to is if a company wanted to be the terminal operator, they needed to respond to the RFP for a terminal operator,” he said. “If they want to bring cargo to the Port of Davisville, there’s absolutely nothing that prevents them from bringing cargo to Davisville today.
If they want to develop an operation in Quonset, we would welcome them with open arms. We’ve got 35 parcels that are pre-permitted, pre-engineered and ready to go so there’s absolutely nothing preventing this company from coming to Quonset.”