PROVIDENCE, RI – Governor Dan McKee's proposed FY2023 budget includes an infusion of nearly $50 million in State Fiscal Recovery Fund dollars to continue the work of upgrading essential infrastructure at the Port of Galilee. The proposed investment at the Narragansett-based state port – the hub of the state's commercial fishing industry – will fund the replacement of bulkheads and docks, improvements such as water supply, electrical, and security upgrades, and bolster Galilee against the effects of climate change.
"From its origins in the mid-1900s as a cluster of fishing shacks to its status today as the 12th-highest-ranked port by landings value nationwide whose products are served around the world, Galilee is an economic and jobs powerhouse," Governor McKee said. "Just as important, it's a working port and fact of life for hundreds of commercial fishermen, businesses that support them, and their families. I look forward to working with legislative leaders to invest in Galilee, ensuring that its businesses can be passed on to the next generation and that it remains one of the East Coast's most vital fishing ports."
"Rhode Island is the Ocean State for good reason. Working ports like the Port of Galilee define our reputation as one of the nation's leaders in the blue economy – an industry that contributes $5 billion to our state," Lt. Governor Sabina Matos said. "It is vital that we take care of assets like the Port of Galilee by addressing long-neglected maintenance and equipping it to sustain the challenges of a changing global economy and climate."
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), which runs Galilee, currently has four projects underway in the north bulkhead area of the port totaling nearly $15 million in investments. The work includes replacing nearly 1,000 feet of bulkhead – a steel structure that forms a barrier between the land and water and provides some protection from storm surge – and heavy-duty piers along with asphalt repair work and electrical upgrades. If approved by the Rhode Island General Assembly, Governor McKee's $46 million budget item will capitalize projects that confront problems related to long-deferred maintenance, expanding far beyond the scope of current improvements. In effect, the new work would extend the life of the port by decades.
"The Port of Galilee is a complex web of interdependent businesses such as commercial fishing boats, fish processors, engine repair companies, seafood distributors, ice producers, bait suppliers, restaurants, a robust party and charter boat industry, and others," said DEM Acting Director Terry Gray. "Unlike other fixed assets, there is no 'normal' wear and tear at Galilee. The port is a dynamic marine environment that is subject to tide, wind, sun, salt, storms, storm surges, sea level rise, and many other conditions and factors and really needs this attention. On behalf of DEM and all our hard-working partners at Galilee, we deeply appreciate Governor McKee's unprecedented investment in one of Rhode Island's most critical economic assets."
All told, Rhode Island's commercial fisheries and seafood sector accounts for more than 3,100 jobs and $538 million in gross sales, according to a 2017 URI economic impact study. Economywide, fisheries and seafood support more than 4,300 jobs and add nearly $420 million, the study found. Covering about 38 acres, Galilee is the home port of 240 fishing vessels and crews. It takes in over 48 million pounds of seafood annually, valued at $66 million (2019 figures), according to DEM.
Even routine daily loading and unloading of commercial fishing vessels causes significant wear and tear to docks and piers. Also, the work that is performed in a port is physically demanding and complex. It requires speed and a vast network of supporting infrastructure (electricity, water distribution, ice and refrigeration, wastewater discharge, septage, engine and equipment repair, cleaning, garbage, and waste collection, etc.) to unload, handle, process, store, and market fish and seafood.
More than half of the proposed budget item's outlay – $24 million – is to be designated for replacing bulkheads and docks and raising bulkhead caps by an average of around 18 inches throughout the port to protect against sea level rise. This week, Rhode Islanders were reminded again of their state's vulnerability to climate change when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released the latest versions of its State Climates Summaries.
"Since 1930, sea level has risen more than nine inches at Newport, faster than the global average," the NOAA study found. "Global average sea level is projected to rise another one to four feet by 2100. Increases in sea level will likely increase coastal flooding and erosion during winter storms (nor'easters) and hurricanes."
Other projects to be funded by the budget item include roadway, stormwater, sidewalk, and parking improvements; water line removal and replacement, new fire hydrants, electrical upgrades, installation of security cameras, further replacement of docks, and improvements to the Office of Coastal Resources, DEM's administrative and operational headquarters in Galilee.