NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — Fishermen and fishery workers like Meghan Lapp welcomed word last week that the state is starting a $5.2 million project to make much-needed improvements at the Port of Galilee.
“The docks are the lifeblood of the port,” Lapp, general manager of fishing company Seafreeze Shoreside, said. “This is a very important infrastructure project.”
Lapp and several other fishing industry members joined state officials on Oct. 16 outside of Seafreeze Shoreside, a large white and blue industrial building at the port, to mark the project’s start.
“These are the men and women that make this port possible, that supply this country and our state with fresh seafood,” Lapp said of the port workers.
Also on hand were Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit, U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and U.S. Reps. James Langevin and David Cicilline (all D-R.I.).
The work will center on the North Bulkhead section of the state port, where heavy-duty commercial fishing piers will be demolished and replaced, bulkhead asphalt will be repaired and electrical supply will be upgraded.
“If there’s not the docks to connect the boats to the facilities, then nothing happens. The unloading and processing can’t happen, the exponential jobs can’t happen. These docks support thousands of jobs at sea and on land,” Lapp, a board member of the Center for Sustainable Fisheries, said.
Around 200 commercial fishermen landed 48 million pounds of seafood, valued at $66 million, at Galilee in 2019, according to DEM. The seafood and fisheries industry supports 4,300 jobs across all economic sectors and provides nearly $420 million in economic impact, according to a 2017 study conducted by the University of Rhode Island for the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation.
Slightly more than $3.5 million in Rhode Island capital plan money secured by the General Assembly, DEM and the Office of Management and Budget, as well as a $1.7 million U.S. Economic Development Administration grant obtained by the Congressional delegation, will fund the project.
Reed noted that commercial fishing can be a demanding business and said COVID-19 and “ill-advised trade wars” have made it tougher.
“I’m pleased to have helped secure federal funding for this project, which makes a crucial investment in our infrastructure and supports our fishermen and all those who contribute to our state’s seafood industry. Infrastructure projects in Rhode Island, constructed by local companies like Narragansett Dock Works, create jobs, bolster our economy and strengthen our resilience,” Reed, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said.
Seafood dishes served at restaurants around the country depend on a network of supporting infrastructure – electricity, water distribution, ice and refrigeration, wastewater discharge, septage, engine and equipment repair, cleaning, garbage and waste collection – used to unload, handle, process, store and market fish and seafood.
The port is typically a center of activity where time, use and weather take their toll.
“Few places take a bigger beating than a port, which experiences tide, wind, waves, sun, storm surges, and other conditions,” Coit said. “The North Bulkhead has been showing its age and wear-and-tear for years now, but with this work will undergo essential repairs.”
The project’s first phase will focus on facilities that are in the greatest need of repair, according to an assessment report prepared by the project engineer, the Pare Corp. Work will begin at the commercial fishing piers just north of the Block Island Ferry at State Pier 3.
Three heavy-duty piers – AA, BB, and CC – that serve as open berthing for the offshore fleet will be demolished and replaced.
The piers service the biggest ships in Galilee, about 60 to 100 feet long, that land the most fish.
The work also includes asphalt repair from Dock CC to State Pier 3 and electrical upgrades throughout the northern section of the port, from State Pier 3 to Dock UU.
Whitehouse, who brought together regional EDA representatives and DEM officials to discuss infrastructure improvements at the port on several occasions in recent years, talked about how Galilee’s fishing operations have been a key industry for the state for generations. Cicilline noted that Galilee is already one of the largest and busiest ports on the East Coast, supporting more than 200 fishing families. Some of the existing port infrastructure dates to 1959, he said.
“This is badly needed. One of the reasons we fight so hard to fund the EDA is that it translates into these types of projects that support good-paying jobs and the Rhode Island economy,” Cicilline said.
Langevin, a self-described “foodie” and seafood lover, said the enhancements will increase the resiliency of the port to climate change by reducing the likelihood of storm damage.
“Let’s face it, we all recognize climate change remains one of the largest threats to Rhode Island’s fishing industry today,” he said. “It increases stresses on infrastructure and causes migration patterns of species to shift. I’ve met with fishermen and they’ve talked about how that has changed significantly.”
A related project, using $280,000 in separate emergency funding, involves partially demolishing and rebuilding Dock X, also known as the Ice Dock. It is one of the port’s heavy-duty docks used to accommodate the berthing of large vessels, and it’s the dock that Seafreeze Ltd. uses to provide ice to all fishermen needing it. Vessels up and down the East Coast unload at the pier, Lapp said.
“It’s one of the busiest docks probably in the port,” Lapp said. “That dock has been broke and in need of repair for quite some time.”
DEM previously oversaw the rehabilitation of the port’s South Bulkhead area, from Champlin’s Seafood to the Block Island Ferry terminal at State Pier 3. In Phases 2 and 3 of the North Bulkhead rehabilitation, DEM envisions significant replacement of various sections of the steel bulkhead, which is old and has exceeded its useful life, along with additional dock replacements and other infrastructure work.
Magaziner and others pointed out that Rhode Island seafood, including the “state appetizer” calamari, is a point of pride nationally and internationally.
“It’s absolutely vital that we continue to invest in our port and our seafood industry,” he said.