At a time when families and businesses of Newport are concerned about keeping their taxes, water rates  and expenses down, and when aid to local nonprofits and public services are at risk after grants have been cut, it makes sense that there has been a lot of public outcry and support over an upcoming resolution that would allow the Newport Fire Department and City to purchase a new $1 million fire truck.

On August 10th, Newport City Council will receive a “Request For City Council Action” from the City Manager and Newport Fire Department that will ask the city council to accept the 2016 Port Security Grant Program (PSGP) Award for the procurement of a new Fire & Rescue Boat.

Many residents have voiced concern or support over the $1 million price tag, grant and necessity of the new Fire & Rescue Boat, some have expressed concern over cost of running such a complex vehicle and the area that the vessel will be required to cover, while supporters have said that with such a busy harbor that it is a necessity for the Fire Department to have such a vessel.

It is important to note that the breakdown for the $1 million price tag is $241,125.00 for the City of Newport and $723,375 makes up the Federal Grant.

After spending countless hours studying the 31 page resolution, conducting a poll and talking to members of Newport City Council, I’m here to tell you that there residents have a legitimate concern about the purchase of this new vessel.

With what i’m going to say, in no way am I saying that Newport doesn’t need a vehicle to protect our beautiful coastline, our community and everyone and everything that visits the City-By-The-Sea, after reading through this proposal, I think there’s got to be a better option out there.

These are items directly from the Council Docket item that need clarification and why I believe residents have the right to ask questions and to be concerned;

1. Grant application: “With approval, on April 23, 2016, the Department submitted an application to the PSGP…”

Who approved this application? According to Newport City Councilor Kate Leonard, Newport City Council was told that the Fire Department did this on its own. Even if the grant may save the City of Newport money, shouldn’t any spending (or saving) go through Newport City Council, they are the ones who have to balance the budget for our our city.

2. Territory usage:

“…the Department would also be able to respond to incidents classified as Chemical, Biological, Radiologial, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE)…”

A. “This investment will operate within a COTP Zone III, Providence…” “with the responsibility of prevention, response to, and recovery from maritime emergencies, including CBRNE events, that occur adjacent to and on the waters of approaches to the port of Providence, including Narragansett Bay, RI and Block Island Sounds.”

“A partial list of the major target hazards in the proposed vessel’s response area include: 4 major bridges, Port of Davisville, North Tiverton Fuel Terminal, Narragansett Bay, Block Island Wind Farm, Naval Station Newport., Sakonnet River, Mount Hope Bay, Taunton River, approach to the Cape Cod Canal…”

“It may also be utilized as a Safety vessel during high traffic events as the Volvo Race Stopover, Jazz/Folk Festivals, Tall Ships, America’s Cup…”

If this boat is to have such a large range of territorial responsibility, how will it effect Newport taxpayers? Is Newport Fire Department and the City of Newport on the hook for all expenses if the boat is required to respond to an event out near Block Island or Cape Cod?

Whoever becomes responsible for the cost, why isn’t RIDEM and RIDOT part of this purchase, operating and maintenance expense?

The grant was approved to provide the above services, certainly those who approved the grant hoped this would be a Southern New England emergency vessel and not just for Newport, but yet it will be payed for with Newport taxpayer dollars.

Yes, 75 – 80% of the upfront expense is a federal grant, but the 20 – 25% upfront from the City is a significant number ($250k) and what are the maintenance costs per year that will fall on the Newport taxpayers for the vessel. Is there any annual kickback from the federal grant to help with maintenance, operation or responses?

B. Maintenance/Operational Responsibilities:

“It will be a ‘first due’, year round asset that will provide early mitigation of vulnerabilities resulting in reduction of direct consequences and help shorten the lenth of time required during the recovery from madmade and natural disasters.” “It will also be a stable platform able to support diving operations for recovery or pre-incident missions such as hull and bridg inspections…”

This reinforces that the vessel will me used to aid/support RIDOT. Why not offer a solution to request that RIDEM and RIDOT purchase the vessel and operate/maintain it?

“It will participate in training and exercises intended to strengthen the Area Maritime Security Plan …available to respond anywhere in southern New England and as far south and west as New York City, if needed.”

Again, clearly this grant of more than $700k was approved with the idea in mind that this event would and could be dispatched for any call between New York City and Cape Cod.

C. Budget: “It will be maintained in a constant state of readiness, 24 hours a day,7 days a week.” “The City of Newport is committed to the training, and maintenance of such an investment for the life of the craft…a plan to train all personnel within the FD that may be expected to operate this vessel—three separate levels of training.”

Does this mean that there has to be a team on standby 24/7 just for the boat? Or, can it be the normal staff. But, then what happens if all Newport Fire Department assets are busy (which often happens) at an emergency and the boat is needed? What then happens to the boat and response? Are off-duty members called-in? Possibly payed overtime?

Included is 19 months of Training and Vessel familiarization

At what cost and to who?

Fuel for training Evolutions : $2000

19 months of training and a budget for fuel of $2,000? Anyone who has spent anytime on a boat knows the coast of fuel would far exceed this budgeted amount.

Couple of other thoughts;

There’s the US Coast Guard Argument? Where and when is it appropriate for US Coast Guard to cover the incident and Newport Fire Department to? Councilor Leonard told me that Newport City Council was told that USCG no longer responds to boat fires. However, Hog Island had a boat fire this week that USCG responded to, as was seen on the news.

The State of RI keeps major portion of both hotel tax and Meals and Beverage tax that come out of Newport, RI. This expanded use of Newport personnel for both Federal and State benefit would seem that the cost should be paid for by State and local funds. It’s as if the state and government is relying on the average Joe from Newport to pay for too much.

Where will boat be stored? Last CIP had request for a building on Long Wharf to store Harbormaster boat, the cost was reported to be $450K. This request was tabled. Will there be a new request to house this boat, if purchased?

In Conclusion;

If Newport Fire Department says they need a fire/rescue boat to keep the city and its people safe, give them a new boat. BUT, don’t go by way of grant where the government is going to hold the Newport Fire Department, City of Newport and the taxpayers of Newport responsible for protecting the Southern New England coastline.

I don’t do it often, but I have to give credit to those loud-mouth members of the community that are raising concern and awareness over the issue, something doesn’t feel right.

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