Quincy Shipyard Stirs, Giving Impetus to Bay State Recovery

AMID the decrepit buildings and rusted equipment of the long-quiet Fore River Shipyard stands the 600-foot supply ship SS Wright. Ship-repair workers wearing hard hats have recently broken a five-year silence here.Cranes swing heavy barrels overhead, a giant torch spews sparks on the drydock floor, and a roaring sandblasting machine scrapes barnacles off the ship's side. The Wright is a freighter which transported materiel for use in the Gulf war. Repairs on the transport will take 21 days; the $1.1 million project will employ 100 people. The contract was arranged with AK Engineering of Chelsea, Mass., in partnership with the Massachusetts Shipbuilders Corporation, an organization founded by shipyard union workers to reopen the Quincy yard. The two firms are leasing shipyard space from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) which owns the yard. Hopes have been raised that this is the beginning of a revival for the shipyard, closed since 1986. Arthur Faherty, vice-president of AK Engineering, says he's planning on bidding for repair work on other ships returning from the Gulf war. He is currently leasing about seven acres of the shipyard land from the MWRA, and he hopes to lease even more space later. "We're bidding on other work," Mr. Faherty says. "The money we spent on getting the yard ready - we don't want to think of it as a one-shot deal." Bay State officials hail the project as a needed boost to the region's sagging economy. "This shipyard has always been a linchpin and driving engine of the South Shore economy," said Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Paul Cellucci in a written statement. "Governor Weld and I are committed to doing everything we can to restore a thriving maritime industry at the Fore River and put people back to work." Jobs are a major concern here. Faherty says the unemployment rate is hovering around 10 percent in some parts of the South Shore. Rick LeBlanc of Marblehead, Mass., (on Boston's North Shore) is very happy to have landed a job on the Fore River project. ve been out of work for like four months," he says. "Every day I was [sending out] job applications and nothing was happening." The Fore River yard once employed thousands of workers. But it was forced to shut down six years ago due to foreign competition as well as competition from other American shipbuilders. Observers say the industry as a whole is having tough times. "It's a highly competitive industry. There are a lot of yards struggling to stay afloat," says Jim McGregor, director of public affairs at Bath Iron Works, a shipyard in Bath, Maine. "There is very little commercial ship building [in the US] ... so it's making the industry compete for the Navy work; and with the ending of the cold war, there seems to be less of that in the future." Mr. McGregor says American shipbuilders are at a disadvantage, since their foreign competitors are often subsidized by their governments. "It's primarily because there's not a balanced playing field," he says. American ship operators are contracting to have their ships built in foreign yards, says McGregor, because those yards "have a lot more help from their governments through subsidies, through tax incentives, interest-free loans and, in some cases, lower wage rates." The MWRA bought the Quincy shipyard facility in 1987. The yard has since been used as a staging area for shuttling equipment over to nearby Deer Island, where facilities for the Boston Harbor cleanup program are located. In addition, MWRA water and sewage treatment facilities serve 60 surrounding communities. Phil Shapiro, chief financial officer at the MWRA, says the deal to lease the shipyard land is a good investment for the water authority's ratepayers. "Clearly ultilizing the yard is not just in the best interest of the shipyard and the South Shore economy, but it's good for the ratepayers of our community who have invested in the yard," Mr. Shapiro says. Faherty has put the shipyard on an around-the-clock schedule of two 12-hour shifts. He is concerned about getting the work finished on time; if the work isn't completed on schedule he faces heavy fines for every late day. His company has a contract with American Overseas Corporation of Quincy, a subsidiary of General Dynamics, to do the ship-repair work.

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