An Interview with Chris Waterson

General Manager, Waterson Terminal Services

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Waterson Terminal Services (WTS) is the facilities manager for ProvPort, the former municipal port in the Port of Providence.  ProvPort was formed in 1994 when the City of Providence, which owned the real estate that would become ProvPort, sold it to a private interest.  ProvPort is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and the ultimate beneficiary is the City of Providence.  In 2007, ProvPort hired WTS to manage the facility.  ProvPort is a board of directors and a general council, while the rest of the staff are all WTS employees.  We’re in charge of all day-to-day operations, all business development; basically running the facility.

We were the port for the pre-assembly and staging activities for the Alstom turbines during the Block Island Wind Farm project.  We were expecting a pretty short timeframe for that.  We were going to start in the late spring, and we would get everything together.  Then it was going to be installed in the summer and everything would get wrap up very quickly.  What happened was that GE acquired Alstom early in the project and expanded their scope to where GE ended up doing much more in-depth pre-assembly activities right here in ProvPort.  We brought in the tower components and ended up having almost a full year of the project here.  That required a lot more job creation because of the work GE did here in advance of the installation scope for the project. 

So, during that time, WTS got a lot of experience under our belt for the types of activities that needed to take place to support an offshore wind farm, including working with the different labor jurisdictions.  Our experience here is with the longshoremen for vessel loading but ended up working with a lot of the building trades: ironworkers, carpenters, painters, electricians, etc.  Almost every single building trade had a role to play in this project and we worked early on with building trades and other contractors involved early in the process to all be on the same page.  That was one of the initial hurdles that ended up working out very smoothly in the project. 

Then moving to the installation side, we used our understanding of how to safely lift and handle these components, to get them secured and sea fastened, to work with the feeder vessels that ran out to the install vessels.  We had to work with our labor force regarding when their shifts would start and stop, which was really being dictated by the vessel schedule because that was the critical path to installation.  There were certainly a lot of lessons learned, a lot of precedents set that have laid the foundations for how we think about building larger offshore wind projects now and into the future. 

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Offshore Wind Component Load Out at ProvPort

ProvPort, managed by Waterson Terminal Services, was the staging and pre-assembly port for America's first offshore wind farm, developed by Deepwater Wind. The lift boats Paul and Caitlin were loaded with components at the port and transported to the final assembly point, 3 miles off the coast of Block Island, RI.
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For me it was extremely exciting.  When I got into the port business coming out of college, I never thought I’d be at the leading edge of an emerging industry like offshore wind.  I didn’t think I’d have a role to play in something this big.  WTS had some experience to draw on, however.  We handled a lot of large, heavy equipment in the past.  We handled onshore turbines, although those are smaller than the offshore ones for Block Island.  We handled things like tunnel boring machines, gas turbines and natural gas power plant components; so, there was a pretty good understanding here of how to handle big heavy equipment and we were able to apply it to the needs of the offshore wind industry.  I started here in 2007.  I have a folder for offshore wind going back to 2008.  We were thinking of it in some way, shape or form as it related to Cape Wind and some of the early opportunities there, so it was a long time coming and it was great to see it come to fruition. 

Since the Block Island Wind Farm, our biggest focus in offshore wind has been to acquire more property.  Obviously, the components keep getting bigger and bigger and require more space.  We also have existing customers in other lines of business that we have to continue to serve in addition to offshore wind.  We acquired a 10-acre piece of property that the Providence Redevelopment Agency owned and now we’re looking at additional property through a state bond fund that is available to us.  So our focus has been on expanding our footprint as much as possible to make as many opportunities available to us as possible. 

With many other ports in the region, improvements are related to bearing capacity.  The good thing about ProvPort is that, because of the historic operations of the port, with the movement of a lot of dry bulk materials and heavy loads, it developed what the engineers call “opportunistic bearing capacity.”  This means that areas compacted and got stronger just by the nature of the heavy load operations taking place on top of the property.  So, we are in a pretty good position regarding bearing capacity, which is one of the reasons why it worked for Block Island and will continue to work for some of the other offshore wind operations we’re exploring.

WTS manages ProvPort and Providence is our headquarters, but we’re also a stevedoring company and we’re also in other ports.  We run stevedoring operations in Davisville, we have a license in the port of New Bedford, Massachusetts, at the marine commerce terminal that is being purpose built for offshore wind and we’re also working on other potential port developments in the region to expand where we can offer service in addition to ProvPort. 

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