Ribbon-cutting for new pier at URI’s Narragansett Bay Campus ushers in new era

Will be home to URI’s new regional class research vessel, Narragansett Dawn

May 8, 2023

With robust horn blasts echoing across the water Friday morning from the 47-year-old research vessel, Endeavor, the University of Rhode Island celebrated the opening of its new pier at its Narragansett Bay Campus.

The sounding of the horn from URI’s workhorse research vessel drew applause and seemed a fitting end to the ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the pier and the heralding of the arrival next year of the new regional class vessel Narragansett Dawn.

URI officials joined elected officials, faculty, staff and students, and community members for the celebration with Narragansett Bay, the new pier and the Endeavor, adorned with nautical pennants, in the background. It was cloudy and raw with a stiff wind coming out of the northeast, but smiles, gratitude and optimism were the order of the day.

From left are: Chris Abhulime, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Dan McKee; Rhode Island Sen. Alana DiMario, Congressman Seth Magaziner, URI President Marc Parlange, Graduate School of Oceanography Dean Paula Bontempi, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, Rhode Island Rep.Teresa Tanzi and Rhode Island Secretary of Commerce Elizabeth Tanner.

That gratitude focused on Rhode Island voters, who in 2018 approved a $45 million bond referendum to construct a new pier and fund other projects as part of phase one of a comprehensive plan to improve the Bay Campus, home to URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography, the Department of Ocean Engineering and programs from several other University colleges, including the College of the Environment and Life Sciences. In November 2022, voters approved another $100 million in bonds to build the campus into an even stronger global center of excellence in ocean science and to propel the state of Rhode Island’s global leadership in the Blue Economy.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed joked about being at URI every week for the past several weeks, as he pointed out the efforts of many people and institutions that led to the ribbon-cutting.

“This new pier will be the home to Narragansett Dawn,” said Reed, who added, “these ships are not mass produced and given to everyone who wants them. This is a very rigorous selection process, and it speaks very highly of the collaborative effort led by the University of Rhode Island.

“I have been working on this with people from the University for about 10 years, and it’s nice to see this chapter close and a new chapter open. This is exactly the right place for this type of vessel, and this new pier is the embodiment of the investment the state is making in the Bay Campus and the school of oceanography. These will make us a leader in the Blue Economy.”

Reed, as other speakers did, said the ceremony would not have been possible without the support of the people of the state of Rhode Island, the leadership of the Rhode Island General Assembly, the governor and his predecessors.

“We are proud that URI, in my view, is the premier oceanographic institution in the United States,” the senator added.

This is a view of the new pier looking east toward Narragansett Bay, with the Research Vessel Endeavor, in the background.

Congressman Seth Magaziner said, “This new pier and the Narragansett Dawn will further strengthen URI’s status as a world leader in oceanography and all of its related disciplines, marine sciences, biology, engineering and geology. URI is primed to be a world leader because of the talent, passion and intellect of the people who come here every day with their scholarship and their research that powers this institution. We are so tremendously proud of all of the work you are doing, not just on behalf of our state, but on behalf of our world.”

Paula Bontempi, dean of URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography and master of ceremonies, read remarks from U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

“The new installations on the Narragansett Bay Campus, including this pier, demonstrate URI’s world-class leadership and commitment to the future of ocean sciences. Congratulations on the completion of this important project,” Whitehouse wrote.

“Thanks are also due to the National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Sciences for its support of URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography and dedication to advancing understanding of all aspects of the global oceans and ocean basins. Our oceans support healthy ecosystems, recreation, fishing, and tourism, and we must do everything we can to protect them. That starts with identifying and researching the changes they are experiencing,” Whitehouse said.

The height of the new pier is consistent with the most up-to-date sea-level rise projections provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The deck is 12.75 feet above mean lower low water, which represents a 5.35-foot increase over the old pier. The dock is 200 feet long by 42 feet wide. The approach trestle (the connecting bridge from land to the dock) is about 210 feet long by 24 feet wide. Both consist of concrete decks and beams supported by concrete-filled steel piles driven between 120 feet to 150 feet deep into the sea floor. Other new features are a 2-ton davit crane for lifting instruments, undersea vehicles and small boats, and a research shed with three moon pools to deploy instruments that monitor the bay.

“The voters of Rhode Island realize in many ways that the future of Rhode Island is going to be through aspects of the Blue Economy,” said URI President Marc Parlange. “An investment in the University of Rhode Island is really an investment in the future of Rhode Island. Having a modern, thriving Bay Campus is going to provide more jobs and spur economic development. This is really going to drive innovation in aquaculture, defense and other industries so important to Rhode Island. It’s going to create sustainable, diverse career opportunities for all Rhode Islanders. We are Rhode Island’s university, we are Rhode Island’s flagship research university.” 

Dean Bontempi said the event marked a transformational first step toward a renewed Narragansett Bay Campus

“This is more than a pier, it’s a home for a new research vessel, a research platform, and it’s a symbol for URI’s position as an anchor for the Blue Economy,” Bontempi said. “Five years ago, the National Science Foundation selected the East Coast Oceanographic Consortium, which consists of Wood Hole Oceanographic Institute, the University of New Hampshire and other partners, to operate a new $125 million regional class research vessel. That ship, Narragansett Dawn, one of only three such vessels in the nation, will soon homeport here at the Bay Campus. With its founding partners in the consortium, URI will operate Narragansett Dawn as it brings new technologies, greater capabilities and course altering discoveries.”

Christopher Abhulime, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Dan McKee, said, as a URI alumnus, he was proud to be speaking at the event on behalf of the governor. 

“Rhode Island has always been at the forefront of big and bold ideas, the Declaration of Independence and the Industrial Revolution,” Abhulime said. “A new revolution is upon us, and that revolution is the Blue Economy, which is not just the economy of the future, it is the economy of today. Any investment in the Blue Economy, and investments in our higher education institutions are not just for today, the day after, they are for our future, and not just the future of Rhode Island.” 

Rhode Island Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, a URI alumna, said URI has been and continues to be a leader in ocean science, coastal education, research, coastal management and policy.

“The oceanographic school is one of the state’s great selling points,” McEntee said, “but we are still just scratching the surface of what this great treasure is capable of achieving. It’s not only possible that URI will be a global leader in ocean sciences, but they will be the global leader in oceanographic research and education. And this mission takes on even greater importance given the immense threats that climate change poses to all of us.”

Rhode Island Rep. Teresa Tanzi said it takes an entire team to complete such a project, adding, “I want to thank the voters of Rhode Island for being forward looking and understanding the value of URI and the importance of the research that’s done here.”

Rhode Island Sen. Alana DiMario, said she lives about a mile-and-half from the Bay Campus, and when her children were young, she used to bring them to the “baby beach” at the Bay Campus, where they could look for sea creatures and dip their toes in the water. She talked about URI professors speaking to her children’s classes and talking about climate change, and changing marine life.

“Three years ago when I was running for the first time for state senate and knocking on doors, one of things I heard from constituents was about their kids going off to college, and them getting to the age when they were thinking about careers. Those parents asked me where the jobs are going to be in Rhode Island,” DiMario said.

“This (pier) is one of the answers. Kids who grow up near the ocean and love the ocean and want to investigate the field of renewable energy, and think about the impacts they can have against climate change, the answers to those questions are right here.”