Regional council backs New London's bid for better deal at State Pier

New London — Representatives from 22 eastern Connecticut municipalities are expressing concern about the Connecticut Port Authority’s choice of a new operator at State Pier and asking Gov. Ned Lamont to get involved.

The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments earlier this week agreed to send a letter to Lamont in response to the port authority’s choice of New Haven port operator Gateway to run the New London port starting on May 1.

New London officials have already expressed dismay about being sidelined from the negotiations between the Connecticut Port Authority and Gateway as well as concern that representatives from the offshore wind industry were not a major part of the 20-year contract with Gateway. The contract contains provisions for Gateway to remain operator for an additional 20 years.

The letter from SCCOG, signed by chairman and Lisbon First Selectman Tom Sparkman, focuses on two issues of concern: that the port authority negotiated outside of public scrutiny or with any involvement of New London officials and that the contract concedes too much control to Gateway.

“It is distressing to learn that New London was not included in a process to lease state property to an entity that will use it for commercial purposes for potentially the next forty years, despite the fact that New London will have to support that venture with municipal services for which it will receive no or little compensation,” the letter reads.

New London officials have worked with offshore wind companies Deepwater Wind and later Orsted, which purchased Deepwater, to lay the groundwork for State Pier to become a staging area for offshore wind development. Deepwater Wind developed the five-turbine wind farm off Block Island and is under contract to deliver 300 megawatts of electricity to Connecticut from a wind farm off Martha's Vineyard.

“The SCCOG believes that the state and the City of New London need to be at the table during Gateway’s discussions with Orsted and any other companies that might be involved in the build out of the offshore wind industry utilizing the State Pier,” the later states. “The SCCOG wishes to express its full support for the use of State Pier as a hub for this new industry, but urges you to use your office to protect the interests of and maximize the return to New London, to our region as well as to our state.”

New London Mayor Michael Passero, who had urged the council to back the city, said he was happy to have the support of the municipalities from throughout the region.

“It’s important we stand together because of the implications on the region. This is not just New London,” Passero said. “I’m hopeful that the new administration in Hartford recognizes that the host community should have been included from the beginning.”

“The fact that the agreement doesn’t include direct benefits or revenues to New London has to be fixed one way or another,” Passero said.

State Sen. Paul Formica, R- East Lyme, said he is working closely with Passero, the port authority and the governor’s office “to advance the region’s interests in developing this new offshore wind industry and maximizing the opportunities for the great city of New London and the surrounding region.”

Formica was with Passero in Hartford on Thursday to start some of those discussions.

“We had a very good discussion yesterday and things are moving forward in a very positive direction both for the region and the port authority,” Formica said.

Formica, a member of the energy committee, said he wants to see opportunities for offshore wind expanded in Connecticut and expects a larger megawatt procurement for offshore wind to help attract the industry here.

Port Authority Executive Director Evan Matthews said in a statement that the conversations “reaffirm our strong relationship with the City of New London and the State.”

“This is yet another step in the process of developing a brighter future for State Pier, the City, the region, and all of Connecticut,” he said.

New London officials are not the only ones calling for more transparency in the operation of State Pier. Noank farmer Kevin Blacker has filed a civil complaint in New London Superior Court against the port authority related to the authority’s closed door meetings in the months leading up to its choice of a port operator.

While the executive session negotiations by the authority are exempted from disclosure under the state Freedom of Information Act law, Blacker argues the authority should be treated differently because they are a “quasi-public agency.”

He has asked a judge for an injunction from further use of executive sessions. The authority has moved to dismiss the complaint on grounds that Blacker has yet to take his complaint through the proper process with the State Freedom of Information Commission.

Blacker said he became interested in the port operations because of his idea to build a market for rocks and boulders, a common byproduct of farming in New England, to be used for coastal resiliency projects. State Pier is situated where it is accessible to freight railways.

“For the project to succeed there needs to be an efficient system to transport the rocks up and down the coast,” Blacker said.

Blacker said the closed-door meetings by the Port Authority “basically overlooked the public knowledge and wisdom,” that might have contributed ideas for the use of State Pier.

Blacker has organized a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Custom House Maritime Museum at 150 Bank St. for “those seeking greater transparency and input regarding the future of the New London State Pier.” He said the meeting is meant to raise public awareness and gather ideas for State Pier.

 

g.smith@theday.com

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