Can lawmakers pry out port authority secrets at this week's hearing?
The state's Democratic establishment has been busy sitting on the rattling lid of the Connecticut Port Authority scandals, as they have been roiling since summer.
One valiant effort by Gov. Ned Lamont's port authority to contain the scandals was an offer of hush money to Gerri Lewis, the authority's fired office manager — $5,000 if she would sign a deal prohibiting her from talking to the news media.
Lewis declined the offer and her one subsequent public statement on port authority culture was a wild account of greedy deals benefiting insiders and crazy credit card abuse, a publicly financed frat house.
It's not clear whether Republicans will be able to guide Lewis into a witness chair for Wednesday's hearing into the port authority morass by the Democratic-controlled Transportation Committee. But they are trying. She's willing.
As we are now days away from the hearing, it might be worthwhile to look at some of the many secrets of the port authority and whether any of them can be pried free.
Secret number one, for me, is how much Connecticut electric customers are going to have to pay for the wind generation deal granted by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to Danish wind giant Ørsted and Connecticut utility Eversource, an award which is at the heart of the companies' bid to remake New London's historic port into an exclusive wind turbine assembly platform.
The way it stands now, an order by the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority will prevent we the little people, who will have to pay for the offshore wind farm and the property-tax-free improvements to the state-owned pier in New London, in higher electric rates, won't know exactly how much higher those rates will be, until they literally turn the turbines on and start charging us.
If you find this offensive, consider a misleading statement this summer made by state Treasurer Shawn T. Wooden that the offshore wind farm will lead to lower electric rates. That was such a bold lie, a local gadfly filed a Freedom of Information request and we learned that the treasurer was saying rates will go down, not up, which is of course what will happen, because he read it in an Ørsted news release. Wow.
I doubt Wednesday's hearing will reveal the secret of how the Democratic establishment, with a port authority micromanaged by party insider Scott Bates, deputy secretary of the state, incredibly, handed over long-term management of the New London port, a significant public asset, to a competing private port owner in New Haven, Gateway Terminals. Gateway already is diverting ship traffic to its own, non-union facilities, where they don't have to pay the state a fee. Why not if you can?
Gateway's gorilla lobbyist, Jay Malcynski, who also represents Ørsted and Eversource, could reveal some of the magic of how this bad deal for Connecticut was awarded, but he won't be made to take a seat at the hearing.
I have asked this question of an executive at Logistec, a worldwide port operator who used to manage the New London pier as port traffic grew in recent years, but lost the deal to the politically connected Connecticut insider. But he couldn't answer because Logistec had to sign a nondisclosure agreement to make its losing bid. More secrecy.
We do know Logistec would have kept the port open to traditional cargo while creating a new area in the harbor for wind assembly.
The union longshoremen in New London, who were made to sign nondisclosures to keep working when Gateway took over — enforced secrecy about the diversion of shipping to New Haven — have since been told they will be laid off March 31, when the historic port of New London largely closes to traditional cargo shipments. It's closing even though the deal to transform the port for wind seems stalled and state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection environmental analysts have not yet ruled on the viability of ambitious plans to fill in seven acres of the river between the two existing piers — a plan, by the way, that the local ferry operator says would drastically disrupt his business.
The Republicans also would like to hear from the one top Democratic official, Comptroller Kevin Lembo, whom I believe has been a standup guy in all this. Lembo first complained that the port authority wasn't providing him checkbook-level expenditures for public disclosure, then that the agency provided incomplete reports represented as "full and complete."
Will the Democrats running Wednesday's hearing help us understand whether this was ineptitude or deliberate secrecy to hide spending?
I'd like to hear some answers Wednesday from Lamont's lieutenants about why they are working so hard and spending so much money to keep secret the emails and communications of the company run by a friend of Bates, a micro firm that was given a lucrative $6,500 a month public relations contract. Bates oversaw the awarding of the contract with a hand-picked committee of three board members.
The port authority, under Lamont's control, has refused to release the public relations company's communications and is fighting my official complaint about the lack of compliance before the Freedom of Information Commission. They are using private lawyers costing hundreds of dollars an hour to fight this disclosure.
Why? Could it be that the emperor has no clothes, that the friend of the port authority chairman, who landed a sweet contract with his help, didn't do much work to earn all that money? Bates said she would become the public relations face of the port authority. The Day never got a single news release from her.
Why can't we see the evidence of what work the company was doing?
So many secrets and so little time for just one hearing. It will be very hard to pry that lid off, no matter how hard the Republicans try.
This is the opinion of David Collins.
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