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News Release

RI Department of Environmental Management
235 Promenade St., Providence, RI 02908
(401) 222-2771 TDD/(401) 222-4462

For Release:

June 22, 2000

Media Contact:

Gail Mastrati 222-4700 ext. 2402
Stephanie Powell 222-4700 ext. 4418


NEWPORT -- Department of Environmental Management Director Jan Reitsma today unveiled a new navigation aid for Narragansett Bay complete with a series of real-time tide, current and meteorological sensors at six locations in the Bay, designed to provide commercial vessels with important data that will enable safer passage.

The six monitoring sites are located at Providence, Conimicut Point, Fall River, Prudence Island, Quonset Point and Newport. These sensors report conditions to a central computer, which sends the data either as voice messages, available by telephone, or to the Internet where they are displayed as text or graphics.

This system is augmented by special lap-top computers DEM purchased for the Narragansett Bay Pilots. The computers are coupled with Global Positioning Satellite (DGPS) receivers to accurately display a vessel's location within the navigational channel. The information is principally designed for commercial vessel traffic. Modern deep draft ships have very little clearance under their keels and need this information to avoid grounding during periods when the actual tides are lower than the predicted tides.

The Narragansett PORTS system is now part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) PORTS ® program. This system serves only four other waterways: New York/ New Jersey, Tampa Bay, Houston/Galveston and San Francisco. NOAA partnered with the RI Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Northeast Marine Pilots to install this equipment primarily as an oil spill prevention measure. Oil tankers represent the largest number of vessels calling at Narragansett Bay.

NOAA operates and manages the system and, most importantly, guarantees the data. NOAA has a crew of oceanographers who monitor the system output 24 hours a day. They will remove any data from the display if it appears to be inaccurate; this is the most important component of the system. These sensors are in or over the corrosive salt-water environment, and therefore are subject to breakdown. The information provided must be reliable, as vessels may have as little as two feet of clearance under its keel. The fluctuation of the tides can be greater than that, depending on wind strength and direction. Data monitoring by professional oceanographers is the key to the systems' success.

U.S. Senator Jack Reed said, "I have been proud to fight for funding for the PORTS program. I am extremely pleased that our Department of Environmental Management is working together with NOAA to make sure that ships traveling to and from our local ports do so safely, and without spilling their cargo."

Lt. Gov. Charles J. Fogarty said, "This state-of-the-art equipment will be a strong tool in our ongoing battle to ensure that our Bay is safe from the kind of devastation wrought by the Northcape oil spill. This is the type of proactive safety measure that can save our economy untold billions in negative economic impact."

"It is appropriate that Rhode Island, the Ocean State, help lead our nation into the future with important tools such as PORTS," said Elgie Holstein, senior advisor to the Secretary of Commerce. "The NOAA team looks forward to working with our partners in Narragansett Bay."

DEM contributed $750,000 to purchase the system, and $220,000 for annual maintenance costs from its Oil Spill Prevention Administration and Response Fund. The fund was created in the aftermath of the North Cape oil spill and is funded by a $0.05/ barrel tax on oil imports ($0.0012/ gallon), as well as the $3.5 million criminal fine the owners of the North Cape paid in 1998.

While it is designed primarily for commercial ships, the PORTS information is also available to the general public. Anyone can access the data by calling 800-301-9983 or connecting to Recreational boaters can make use of both the tide and weather data.

For General Information 222-6800 • After Hours Emergencies 222-3070 • Disclaimer