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House passes bill to establish state port authority

By Johanna Somers

Publication: theday.com

Published May 06. 2014 4:17PM   Updated May 07. 2014 12:20AM

Hartford — The House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday to create a state port authority by Oct. 1, 2015, and, legislators hope, to increase business at Connecticut’s three ports — New London, New Haven and Bridgeport.

 

“I have every confidence that this bill will help take advantage of and realize the economic and business opportunities that are there,” Rep. Elissa Wright, D-Groton, said.

The Senate passed a similar bill last year, but the House never voted on it. After several revisions this year and with input from the governor’s budget office, and the departments of Economic and Community Development and Transportation, a compromise House Bill 5289 was passed unanimously.

“Our ports are underutilized commercial hubs that represent an untapped resource for developing new business markets and spurring economic growth in our state,” House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said. “Connecticut is positioned to capitalize on our unique location, and we have the real potential to become a shipping alternative to New York and Boston by focusing on niche markets.”

The state port authority would be a quasi-public agency, similar to the Connecticut Airport Authority. Its power would be vested in a board of directors comprising 15 voting members.

The objective of the authority would be to market the ports to domestic and foreign shippers, to seek private investment and to pursue federal funding for dredging and other infrastructure improvements to increase shipping capacity, according to the bill. Some of the cargo opportunities for the state’s ports include scrap metal and wood pellets.

There also are opportunities for private ferry services and ship repair, according to the 2012 Connecticut’s Deep Water Port Strategy Study.

In New London, 21 ships arrived at Adm. Harold E. Shear State Pier last year — 10 fewer than in 2012. But the total metric tonnage of copper, steel and other products that passed through the port reached 112,838 last year, slightly above the 111,100 tons in 2012.

It was the best year for tonnage offloaded at State Pier since 2007, though shipments didn’t come close to measuring up to levels seen in the mid-2000s, when more than 200,000 metric tons arrived in two consecutive years.

Last year was the fourth consecutive year in which no forest products — used as building materials — came through the Port of New London.

Before the authority is set up, a port authority working group would be established to submit recommendations to the economic and community development officials. The working group would recommend duties for the authority’s board of directors: among the possibilities would be employment, the issuance of bonds and the authority to acquire or own real property.

The working group must disband on Oct. 1, 2015, when the port authority would become fully operational. Smaller ports that are interested in being a part of the port authority could join, lawmakers said.

“It’s high time we did something about this because we are in dire need of a real economic development strategy on all fronts,” state Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, said.

The bill will be sent to the Senate for a vote.

j.somers@theday.com

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