The Newport Port Commission this week got an earful from a large group of commercial fishing families who contend that the port’s financial troubles should not be placed on the backs of the fishing community.
The port commission this week was scheduled to consider fee and lease increases which fishermen claim would raise their rent and service rates 18% to 60%. Several fishermen came right out and accused the commission of trying to make up for lost income and other opportunities at the still under-developed Newport International Terminal. The commission sat silent while Commission Chair Patricia Patrick-Joling calmly called on the fishermen to step forward and speak their minds.
Comments from fishermen and their families included criticism of port officials who forfeited over two million dollars in grants because the port could not close a deal with an operator which would have accelerated the development of the terminal in tandem with operations on land just to the east, owned by the Wilbur Hall family. But Port officials said they could not proceed with that deal because the company that would have operated the terminal, would not have provided sufficient income to create a big enough profit margin for the port to enable it to pay off loans also associated with the project.
Many fishermen urged the port commission to take more time to reach an equitable solution. They said the proposed fee increases on fishing operations were too high. They suggested the port impose a lower 3% across-the-board fee increase on all port services and rentals while further exploring more equitable methods of moving the project ahead.
And that’s pretty much where they left it. The situation is further challenged by the fact that the port is beginning to assemble its annual budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year. Everyone agrees the port needs more revenue but many disagree on how to do it.