Local Senators Mean Business

Middletown Economic Development
December 14, 2008

By Joe Baker – Newport Daily News staff -12/4/2008

It was a moment that defined why some state senators were in Newport Wednesday.

Senate President-elect Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, asked officials at Newport Biodiesel how state officials could help the fledgling company’s efforts to grow.

It didn’t take long for business manager Bob Morton to let them know that 100 percent biodiesel fuel is exempt from the state excise tax while Newport Biodiesel’s fuel, distilled from used restaurant grease, is not. The federal government, on the other hand, is encouraging these types of recycling efforts by providing a $1-per-gallon tax credit beginning Jan. 1, Morton said.

“The federal government is giving us $1 to blend it and the state is basically saying we don’t want you to blend it,” Morton said.

Local senators Weed, Charles J. Levesque, D-Portsmouth, and Sen.-elect Louis P. DiPalma, D-Middletown, toured the facility as part of the first in a series of state Senate road trips to open a dialogue with businesses and public officials in different parts of the state.

“This was a great opportunity to see a local business with concrete suggestions on how we can help them,” Weed said after the tour of the business on Connell Highway.

It followed an hourlong meeting with area public officials at the Newport County Chamber of Commerce office in Middletown. After a brief overview of the local economy from chamber Executive Director Keith Stokes, officials from Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth, Tiverton and Bristol outlined more local concerns.

The state rightfully focuses on the large state-owned industrial park at Quonset Point, but local industrial parks also need attention, Stokes told senators and Senate Policy Director Marie Gannon.

There are currently 32,450 acres of land zoned light industrial in the state, Stokes said. But only 11,116 of those acres are being used for light industrial.

“Over the next five to 10 years, we need to make targeted investments in improving the infrastructure and utilities (in industrial parks),” Stokes said. “We have to make investments in our existing corporate parks … if we’re going to compete (economically).”

Robert Silva, chairman of the Middletown Economic Development Advisory Commission, discussed the town’s ongoing efforts to improve the infrastructure of the Aquidneck Corporate Park on Valley Road. Tiverton Town Administrator James C. Goncalo said his town is having trouble attracting tenants to its 177-acre industrial park, partly because of infrastructure problems. Portsmouth Town Administrator Robert Driscoll said sewers will be an issue when the Navy finally releases to the public the four former tank farm sites in the Melville section of town.

“The Navy provides sewerage to Melville now,” Driscoll said. “When they give it up, it’ll be our problem.”

During the visit to Newport Biodiesel, Morton also told Weed the state could help the business simply by giving its used grease to the company and convincing state departments that use diesel-run vehicles to use biodiesel instead.

“The issue is cost,” Weed said.

“We can match the cost (of regular diesel),” Morton said.

Weed, accompanied by senators from the local area, will visit every part of the state, she said.

“We have to reach out to businesses and local governments to see what we can do to help businesses and see them through this difficult time,” Weed said. “This convinced me we have to do this more often.”