Lamont sends the right signals with revised State Pier deal

There was an awful lot of fanfare at New London City Hall on Wednesday to announce a relatively modest amount of money that will flow to the Whaling City because of increased activity at State Pier.

Gov. Ned Lamont was joined at a press conference by Mayor Michael Passero; Connecticut Port Authority Chairman Scott Bates; state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme; state Rep. Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton, and state Treasurer Shawn T. Wooden.

Cameras from the state’s TV news stations were in place to record the event and the first-floor City Hall lobby was crowded with members of the Passero administration, some council members, wind industry officials and local shakers and movers.

In the end, what the public learned is that under an “Impact Fee Agreement” New London will receive $75,000 annually from Gateway Terminal, the company recently selected by the port authority in a competitive bid process to manage State Pier. The money will defray the cost of police, fire and other services the city provides.

Additionally, New London will share in the gross annual revenues that Gateway generates as port operator. The port authority will get 7 percent of those revenues and New London’s share is 10 percent of the authority’s amount. With a minimum payment of $500,000 guaranteed to the port authority, New London gets at least $50,000.

Add them up and New London is assured $125,000 annually, though the number could grow significantly if port operations pick up. An inflationary adjustment on the service payments and future guaranteed increases to the minimum revenue payment assure at least modest increases for the city over the course of the 20-year Gateway contract.

Still, announcing numbers that size for a city with a $92.6 million budget typically does not warrant a visit from the governor.

So what gives?

Lamont is signaling he is paying attention to New London, that he sees the potential for economic and job growth as use of the port expands — particularly if it becomes a major staging area for development of offshore wind farms — and that he is committed to the city sharing in the returns on that growth.

“Wind power is going to be a significant piece of our future and New London is at the very front of the line there, that’s why I wanted to be here,” Lamont said. “State Pier is about clean energy and what that means for our future, but it’s also about what this port means. And this is going to be one of the most important ports in New England … this is just the beginning of something important for New London and the state of Connecticut.”

When three weeks ago the port authority announced the selection of Gateway as port operator, its failure to extend any of the negotiated revenues to the host city, New London, was glaring. As Passero noted Wednesday, it perpetuated “historic inequities” for a city that hosts State Pier but has benefitted little in terms of revenue because State Pier is state owned and tax exempt.

That the new governor intervened to assure some revenues, modest as they may appear, would flow to New London was a significant step. Perhaps more importantly, Lamont pledged his backing for state legislation that would add the New London mayor as a voting member of the port authority, assuring the city’s interests will be considered as the port’s potential for supporting wind farm construction is explored.

Passero correctly credited Lamont for working “to set the relationship between the Connecticut Port Authority and our city on the right path.”

Getting a much bigger share of the Gateway revenues would have been unrealistic. The authority is charged with driving economic development at ports, big and small, across the state. Now subsidized with $400,000 annually from the state, its charge is to work toward fiscal independence. It provides grants to spur increased activity at ports, mariners and fisheries.

In other words, the port authority needs revenues. But so too does New London. The authority’s failure to steer any of the revenue toward New London was an affront that Lamont was right to correct.

The bigger and more important challenge is to make sure the New London port realizes its potential as a major player in wind farm development and that the city benefits correspondingly. By showing up in town and working to get New London a seat at the table, Lamont demonstrated his administration is engaged in that effort. 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments