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Providence - Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee has met with officials from the Cape Wind offshore wind project planned for Massachusetts about possibly using the state's ports as the wind farm's construction staging area, and a project spokesman told The Associated Press on Friday that it's an "open question" whether a terminal planned for New Bedford will be ready for them to use when they need it.
The project is expected to bring hundreds of jobs to an area that desperately needs them. Rhode Island has the second-highest unemployment rate in the country and New Bedford, just over the border, is in one of the most economically depressed areas of Massachusetts.
Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger, said Cape Wind has been assessing the capabilities of the state's ports at Quonset in North Kingstown and in Providence.
"The governor remains hopeful that at some point in the future, Cape Wind would be able to bring jobs and economic activity to Rhode Island," she told the AP.
Construction has not yet started on the New Bedford terminal, and it is estimated to take 18 to 20 months to build, said Ed Washburn, New Bedford's deputy port director. A permit from the Environmental Protection Agency has taken longer than expected and has not yet been issued.
Washburn said it is expected in the coming weeks, and construction could start soon after that.
Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said the phase of construction that will require a port is expected to start in 2014.
Rodgers told the AP on Friday that officials with Cape Wind and Quonset met two weeks ago. Hunsinger says Chafee met with Cape Wind officials a few weeks ago, although it wasn't clear if it was the same meeting. Rodgers wasn't specific about who was at the meeting.
Rodgers said Cape Wind met with other ports as the project has progressed, and he would not go into detail about the meeting.
But he said among the topics they discussed was whether Quonset would be able to take on at least some of the work planned for New Bedford.
"An open question is whether it will be available for everything, or if the work is done in stages," he said. "We're keeping our options open."
We'd like to use New Bedford to the greatest extent we can, but it depends on their availability."
For example, the work on the turbines themselves could be kept in New Bedford while earlier work that is necessary for the foundations could be done elsewhere, Rodgers said.
He said they are still optimistic the New Bedford terminal will be finished in time to do work there and that they have known all along Quonset could be used for the work if New Bedford wasn't ready. The primary downside to using Quonset is that it's further away than New Bedford, Rodgers said.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said Cape Wind had expressed concerns to the city about the timetable, but said the state is insistent the terminal will be completed in time for all of the work to be done in New Bedford.
"The city of New Bedford is doing everything we can to support the state's efforts," he said.
He said as of now, the terminal is scheduled to be completed by mid-2014.
The terminal was originally estimated to cost $35 million to build, but The Standard-Times newspaper of New Bedford reported on Friday that the state's secretary of energy and environmental affairs said it could now cost as much as $100 million.
A spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the quasi-public agency that is building the project, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment. David Preston, a spokesman for the Quonset Development Corp., would not comment.
Construction on Cape Wind is scheduled to start next year, although they will begin with work that does not require a port terminal, such as cable work on land, Rodgers said.
Rodgers and Washburn said there's a misguided tendency to think of it as a competition between different states and ports to get businesses. Rather, they said, it should be seen as the development across the region of a new infrastructure to support a growing wind industry, including Cape Wind, Deepwater Wind in Rhode Island and other proposed projects.
"One port isn't going to be able to do it all," Washburn said. "That's what we're hoping for here."