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New London — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed legislation into law Monday that creates a statewide port authority by Oct. 1, 2015, for the deepwater ports of New London, New Haven and Bridgeport.
The goal of the Connecticut Port Authority will be to increase public and private investments for port development, pursue federal and state money for dredging in order to increase cargo movements through Connecticut’s ports and market the ports to domestic and international shipping companies, said Tim Sullivan, a director for the Department of Economic and Community Development. Before the port authority is created a working group will be organized to determine what the authority and duties are of the quasi-government agency.
“We can be, through our ports and through the rest of our infrastructure investment, we can be the alternative to the New York port authority and Boston,” said House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden. “We can be the economic driver for port transport and for goods and services that come through our port in a way that we never really coordinated.”
While public officials dreamed big for the anticipated Connecticut Port Authority, they and transportation experts also said that additional investments in rail would help the state maximize its economic potential.
“It (the Connecticut Port Authority) is a great step to get New London’s port up and running,” said Todd O’Donnell, co-owner of New London’s Union Station. “This coupled with support of the New England Central Railroad TIGER grant will make freight access to the state pier at New London’s port much more accessible for all of Eastern Connecticut.”
TIGER or the Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation is used nationwide to expand passenger and freight services. The grant program is highly competitive.
Last year, the state announced $8 million in state grants for four rail companies to modernize Connecticut’s freight rail system. At the time U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said the state’s investment would signal to Washington, D.C., that Connecticut was serious about upgrading the New England Central Railroad tracks in its region and would demonstrate that more federal investments in the central railroad would pay off.
Within the $8 million state grant, the New England Central Railroad, which runs from New London to the Vermont-Quebec border, was awarded $3.6 million for the tracks in Connecticut. Additional funds could further upgrade the central railroad and make transporting heavy cargo all the way up to Canada more efficient.
“Although we are celebrating ports here, the rail system, in and out of this area, is also extremely important to me as well,” Malloy said. “And I am hopeful we will have some additional — although we made some grants last year with respect to improvement on the rail line — I am hoping that shortly we will have some additional announcements with respect to the rail line serving the area as well.”
Malloy said he was trying to stop anyone from tearing up rail lines and to increase the level of rail usage for goods coming in and out of the ports.
“Every truck that we can get off the highway, in particular congested I-95, I-91, I-84 corridors, is a real victory for us,” Malloy said. “So it is something that we absolutely want to see.”
State Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, said the creation of the port authority would also help demonstrate to the federal government Connecticut’s commitment to improving its infrastructure.
“I think it shows a sort of coordinated activity,” Maynard said. … “Right now we are limited by the age and weight capacity of rail, and I think there are some height limitations if we want to get into double-stack container rail, even to ship bulk cargo right now,” Maynard said. “It would be nice to have the improved rail bed that can accept heavier weight cars.”
In New London, State Pier’s operator, Logistec Stevedoring Inc., has imported raw materials such as lumber, copper and salt.
“That’s certainly an area and a niche market we could exploit more fully,” Maynard said. “I don’t think we have been taking full advantage of products we initially took into the port.”
New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio thanked Malloy for making good on his word. Finizio said that four years ago, when he was a resident of the city and not a public official, he noticed newspaper articles with then- candidate Malloy riding ferries in southeastern Connecticut and saying he was going to make the Connecticut’s deepwater ports a priority.
The City of New London is one of the only deepwater port cities in the world that is “economically disadvantaged,” Finizio said.
“Today that begins to change and it’s changing because of the leadership of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy,” he said.
Logistec attended the event as well to show its support.
“We have a partnership with the state, and we are going to be very supportive and we are going to continue to work with the Department of Transportation and the DECD,” said Frank Vannelli, senior vice president of commercial and business development for Logistec.
Vannelli added that the company has asked to be a member of the port authority working group.
Logistec is already talking with state officials about growth at the port, he said. Because the state is Logistec’s landlord, it has to get permission from the state first, he said.
Logistec is discussing with state officials whether a private company may come on port property “to do a major distribution of a product,” Vannelli said. He would not provide details about the product or the company but said that “the product would come in by ship and be stored and housed in New London and then it would move out by truck and rail.”
The new law signed by Malloy, called Public Act No. 14-222, does not provide any state appropriations or bond authorizations for the Connecticut Port Authority, according to the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis. OFA said that the working group could cost less than $1,000 to reimburse agency staff and legislators for mileage. The group will terminate its work on Oct. 1, 2015.