PBN reports this week on the high cost to the city of the recent sale of Promet Marine Services to the newest member of Providence’s polluting waterfront, Sims Metal Management. Six years before it was part of a $16.8 million sale to an international metal recycler, the Promet Marine Services pier on Allens Avenue was nearly sold to the city of Providence for a more modest price of just over $1 million.
But that deal was struck down by the R.I. Supreme Court in a decision that supporters of waterfront development point to with dismay as a key reversal that helped stymie proposals to rezone the area and open it up for nonindustrial uses.
“The city got screwed,” said Providence Ward 10 City Councilor Luis Aponte, the most vocal advocate for waterfront rezoning on the council… “I think now it is clear why the Cohens fought any changes down on Allens Avenue,” Aponte said about the amount Sims paid for the property. At issue for the court was this section of the purchase agreement with Promet: Not withstanding anything contained herein to the contrary, this Contract is conditional upon the City of Providence waiving its right to purchase this property under the same terms and conditions contained herein in accordance with R.I. General Laws Section 37-7-3. Said required notice to City was made by certified mail on May 18, 2005. If the City of Providence chooses to exercise its rights as provided in R.I. General Laws Section 37-7-3, then this contract will terminate and be deemed null and void.Sounds reasonable enough. After all, state taxpayers had maintained the property since the site was condemned in 1911 and quite obviously had an interest in ensuring the next use of that property be in the best interests of the people of the City of Providence. Again from the PBN:In Superior Court, the sale to the city was upheld, but after the Cohens appealed, the state Supreme Court in 2008 struck down the sale on the grounds that the Providence Redevelopment Authority was only authorized to buy “blighted” land, which the pier was not.I guess blight is in the eye of the beholder. Promet was never exactly an environmental poster child, but that’s not the standard applied. What the ruling says to me is that with enough money and the right attorneys, corporations can void whatever sections they no longer like of contracts signed with the people of the state. The result? You guessed it, a nice payout for the corporate interests and their attorneys and even more environmental harm for residents.
There is some good news. The next time the city has a chance to buy the property, the case for declaring the property blighted will be a lot easier.