First it was a liquefied natural gas terminal in Mount Hope Bay featuring monster tankers with a few feet of clearance beneath the Mount Hope Bridge and a vast exclusion zone into which boats must not veer.
Then it was a Sakonnet River Bridge toll (and, originally, a potential Mt. Hope Bridge toll) — $10-plus per round trip for visitors, a bit less for locals.
Both awful ideas were backed by powerful forces: LNG by Hess and its friends at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; tolls by a governor and his Department of Transportation.
And against the longest of odds, these communities fought back. Townspeople and their representatives packed meetings, wrote letters, rode buses to the State House.
They dogged Hess and associates with a years-long barrage of bills, protests and filings. An exasperated Hess eventually threw in the towel.
It went much the same with tolls. Hundreds packed hearings in Bristol, Portsmouth and Tiverton. Tolls would ruin fragile businesses, people argued. They’d divide families and block tourists from the state’s best attractions. And they were unfair — requiring one corner of the state to pay for upkeep of all state bridges. But the governor and associates weren’t listening.
You have a better idea? they asked.
Turns out people here did. It involves temporary (they say) motor vehicle fee hikes, a few pennies more on the gas tax — not popular things but the right way to go since everyone should share the burden of keeping bridges upright.
All who attended the early hearings had reason to doubt that tolls could ever be overcome. Eloquence and numbers seemed no match for a governor and staff whose heels were dug in.
But now Gov. Chafee says he will sign this budget, Sakonnet toll elimination and all.
Credit the small East Bay delegation, led on the Senate side by Louis DiPalma, on the House side by Ray Gallison and Jay Edwards, for turning the tide. Their creative, persuasive and persistent work changed minds and led the way. Backing them were all who phoned, wrote, emailed, spoke at hearings, carried Flo’s placards at the bridge dedication and dressed up in chicken suits at the State House.
Killing this toll was good for the obvious economic and fairness reasons. It was better for what it revealed about our system.
Once in awhile —a decade ago with LNG, now with tolls — determined people can overcome the most formidable of beauracracies.
Congratulations — this new bridge looks better than ever.