PROVIDENCE — The Providence City Council on Thursday night passed a new long-term tax deal with ProvPort, an operator within the Port of Providence.
The deal, which will allow ProvPort to continue operating there for another 30 years, comes after environmental and community advocates said a previous version was being rammed through in the dwindling days of the previous City Council in December. Supporters say this version will provide more input from neighbors and more environmental controls. The measure now heads to Mayor Brett Smiley’s desk for approval. The General Assembly has to pass the legislation to make it official, too.
“Late last year, the City Council heard from community groups concerned that the ProvPort negotiations were moving too quickly with minimal conversations happening with neighbors,” City Council President Rachel Miller said in a news release. “The Council listened, paused, and re-engaged with the community and environmental advocates to come up with a better solution.”
Under the tax deal, instead of paying property taxes, ProvPort will pay 9 percent of its annual revenues to the city. ProvPort had paid 5.5 percent under its old deal, which was set to expire in 2024. That 9 percent of revenues includes payments for sustainability and community development projects, which require minimum payments of $120,000 each annually.
The amount of revenue-sharing in this deal is the same as it was in the proposal that was held up last year. But the new arrangement includes a new ban on expansion of fossil fuel usage by ProvPort, with one final amendment: It will allow for upgrades to existing fuel services to improve safety or environmental standards, or to allow for new infrastructure for more environmentally friendly fuels, the agreement states.
ProvPort also will send the City Council a list of active and new tenant leases, with more requirements around reporting environmental violations and all chemicals stored on the property, the city said. That recently came up with tenant Univar, which will pay $800,000 to resolve Clean Air Act allegations. ProvPort sent Univar a letter outlining its concerns about the situation.
If it were subject to property taxes, ProvPort would have paid $769,000 in 2022, the city said previously. Under its old deal, ProvPort paid the city about $600,000 in 2022, and under the new deal, it would pay $1 million in the first year, a spokesman for the operator said.
Separate legislation extending ProvPort’s lease passed under the last City Council. As part of that extension, ProvPort will pay $7 million up front out of proceeds from bonds. Those bonds will also fund improvements at the port.
That the final piece of the deal passed on Thursday seems appropriate given the Groundhog Day-like quality to this process: The previous City Council had taken up legislation to extend ProvPort’s ability to work in the city, but after a local outcry, councilors mostly but not entirely punted it to 2023. The new council, which took office in January, took another look at it and made some changes. Because the tax agreement is what’s called an ordinance, it had to pass twice, although it didn’t have to be identical both times. Now those City Council hurdles have been cleared.
ProvPort is a nonprofit operator within the broader federally designated Port of Providence. The Port of Providence also extends up and even across the river into East Providence. ProvPort is managed by Waterson Terminal Services, which said it was “extremely pleased” with the outcome of Thursday’s vote.
“The process and decision to pause last year has produced a better outcome for all parties and we can now turn our focus to the additional economic development and job creation opportunities associated with offshore wind development,” general manager Chris Waterson said.
Brian Amaral can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.