The Providence City Council decided to postpone a final vote on two resolutions that would extend ProvPort’s lease and tax exemption program at the Port of Providence Thursday evening, citing plans to further engage the community in the decision-making process.
ProvPort is a non-profit organization that manages a section of the Port of Providence sold to them by the city in 1994, according to WPRI. ProvPort’s tenants include chemical manufacturer and distributor Univar, propane storage and distribution company SEA-3 Providence and several cement and road salt distributors, according to its website.
“We felt that it was necessary to talk about (the deal) and to give ourselves time” to listen to the community, Ward 10 Councilman Pedro Espinal said at a press conference before the council meeting. The council came to the decision after engaging in meetings with representatives for ProvPort earlier in the day, Espinal added.
The proposed agreement would extend ProvPort’s lease and tax exemption program to 2052. Currently, ProvPort pays around 5% of its revenue to the city instead of paying property taxes — the new deal would increase this figure to 9%, according to WPRI.
The resolutions extending ProvPort’s lease and tax exemption program were passed in a contentious meeting of the council’s Finance Committee Monday evening, in which community activists and residents objected to the deal during a public comment section.
“We want to build, but we want to build healthy, good things that are going to be sustainable for the community,” said Monica Huertas, executive director of the People’s Port Authority, an organization that fights for community oversight of the Port of Providence. Huertas believes that the decision to extend the deal requires “much more extensive community engagement” with residents who live near the port.
“I am asking you to trust the community process,” Huertas said to the committee.
The tax exemption agreement with ProvPort expires in 2024, and ProvPort’s lease extends until 2036, according to the Providence Journal. The People’s Port Authority believes that there is “no justification for urgency in rushing this important decision right now,” instead requesting that the council engages the community in negotiations, according to the group’s Facebook page.
Despite opposition to the deal, the Finance Committee passed the resolutions with a vote of four to one and scheduled a final vote before the entire council during Thursday’s meeting.
At the press conference Thursday evening, Huertas emphasized the role of community opposition in convincing the council to postpone the final vote. “We didn’t come to this point because the polluters or City Hall decided to have a good heart, (but) because we've been organizing and involving ourselves and speaking to them,” Huertas said.
“We are partners with the city of Providence (and) we want to have a healthy, good relationship,” Bill Fischer, a representative for ProvPort, said at the press conference. Fischer said that ProvPort acknowledges the “frustration” expressed at the Finance Committee meeting and added that “it is good to continue the dialogue” about the deal.
At the Thursday council meeting, the motion to table the two resolutions passed by a voiced vote and did not receive any opposition from the council members present.
“I'm so grateful for the community advocates who came out and raised their opposition,” Ward 1 Councilman John Goncalves ’13 MA’15 told The Herald after the meeting. Goncalves believes that the approval process was too rushed and added that moving forward the council will focus on “bringing all the stakeholders to the table” in order to reach a fair deal with ProvPort.
Huertas was pleased with the council’s decision to table the vote on the resolutions. “We are super, super, super happy that finally the community was listened to,” she told The Herald after the meeting.
According to Huertas, the next steps will be “talking and engaging with ProvPort, engaging with (the) City Council and getting the community work done.”
Sam Levine is a University News editor from Brooklyn, New York overseeing the staff and student labor and on-campus activism beats. He is a sophomore concentrating in International and Public Affairs.