2014 Water Resources Bill allows WaterFire to Request Hurricane Barrier Closures

The Fox Point Hurricane Barrier

WaterFire Providence would like to thank U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed for their critical support in getting legislation passed that will permit better navigation conditions  on the river to help with events like WaterFire.  Due to increased siltation the three downtown rivers are increasing impassable to all boat traffic depending upon the tide level.  This makes it very difficult for WaterFire to schedule lightings or to keep the fires lit, as many people would have witnessed themselves at the first lighting of the season.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) reauthorization, which passed both houses of Congress in recent weeks, and will soon be signed by the President, permits the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier to be operated to maintain navigable water depths in downtown.  The City and organizations like WaterFire Providence will now have the ability to request such closures, provided that those making the request repay the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the costs associated with operating the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier.

The Army Corps has been helpful on this issue in the past, but decreasing water depths are making the need more frequent and the 2013 federal budget cuts known as sequestration led the Corps to reduce services across the country, including a restriction of operations of the barrier except during emergencies.

Sand bar near the Waterplace Basin, photo by Emily Gauvin.

Low tide conditions reveal sand bars near the Waterplace Park Basin at our May 24th, 2014 lighting. Photo by Emily Gauvin

Previous possible WaterFire lighting dates or occasions we have been forced to abandon when the water was too shallow for navigation.  At several events including the recent May 24th lighting dedicated WaterFire Providence volunteers and staff have gone to heroic efforts to keep the fires burning, but even then long sections of braziers we had to let go out. There are at least four events in the 2014 season that would have been impossible to properly execute without this cooperation of the Army Corps. This new flexibility allows us to be able to work in bringing conventions to the city, bringing people and income to the city.

Senator Whitehouse served on the WRRDA conference committee and fought successfully to include language granting the Corps the necessary authority to accept payment for assisting in WaterFire events.  Senator Reed spearheaded a similar effort last year and worked closely with Whitehouse throughout the process.

“WaterFire is a hub of economic and artistic activity in downtown Providence,” said Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Corps.  “The legislative agreement announced today provides a long-term solution to ensure that this Rhode Island tradition continues.  This is good news for our state, and for all of the shops, hotels, and restaurants that benefit from every WaterFire event.”

WaterFire is working with the Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Providence to work out the logistics and cost for deploying the hurricane barrier.  WaterFire will have to raise the funds to cover these new expenses, just as we work to cover the rest of the costs of the season.

Under the WRRDA bill the Corps will continue to own and operate the barrier, but it will now have the ability to accept repayment from the City or other partners to cover the cost of operating the barrier. According to a 2012 economic impact report conducted by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, WaterFire Providence generates $114 million of spending in local businesses, creating $9.3 million in tax revenue for the State of Rhode Island and the City of Providence and supports 1,294 jobs for residents in the community.

<em>Fox Point Hurricane Barrier photo by Marc N. Belanger via Wikipedia.</em>

About the author

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I've worked at WaterFire since 2003. For the first 9 years of my career here I worked in the Production Shop learning all of the details that go into the physical production of the event. I have recently transitioned to role of managing WaterFire's social media and web presence. I find it very rewarding working to increase engagement with our supporters both locally and globally.

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