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Lamont must be open about State Pier deal going forward

Upon finally reviewing the memorandum of understanding that outlines the tentative terms of a public-private deal to overhaul State Pier, transforming it into a hub to support offshore wind energy development, our primary reaction was why the heck was the state so reticent to release it?

It follows fairly closely the terms summarized by Gov. Ned Lamont and other state officials back on May 2, when the deal was first announced at a New London waterfront news conference. The document itself, while wasting ample space and, we suspect, needless legal fees on a confidentiality section filled with the typical mumbo-jumbo, gets to the point: “The parties acknowledge that ... the CPA is subject to the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act ('CT FOIA') and nothing herein is intended to contradict or limit the obligations of CPA under CT FOIA.”

CPA refers to the much-troubled Connecticut Port Authority, which is responsible for the administration of State Pier and a signatory to the agreement. Yet when The Day sought access to the memorandum— a public document possessed by a quasi-public agency — it was denied. And when a Day columnist repeated the request a few weeks ago, this time to the governor’s office, he was basically ignored.

This approach did not serve the Lamont administration well. It contributed to suspicions about a project that the editorial board feels could be transformative. A project that would finally see State Pier used to its potential. This would happen not only by making the New London port a major player in a desperately needed expansion of renewable energy, but by also leaving the port — once that wind farm work is done — better equipped to handle a broad range of heavy-lift cargo.

And the lack of transparency — needless in retrospect — was part of a pattern. Recall that back at that May news conference, Lamont “announced that the state and its partners have reached an agreement on a harbor development plan for State Pier.”

Well, yes and no. What was reached was the memorandum of understanding. Extensive negotiations remained before a final deal could be signed. Those talks continue. That was not made clear. The memorandum should have been released that day, providing transparency. But instead of the CPA and administration giving the full picture, they allowed information to surface in dribs and drabs, the result of aggressive reporting. It only fed speculation about what folks were hiding.

Our desire is that the administration’s change of heart in releasing the document on Tuesday — its recognition, perhaps, that it had been doing itself no favors in dodging inquiries about its release — is the turning of a page and the start of the open approach the governor will take on this matter moving forward.

The broad outlines of the memorandum call for the Ørsted/Eversource partnership to invest $55 million in infrastructure improvements to make State Pier ready to prepare and transport components to its planned offshore wind farms. That improved infrastructure would remain when the Ørsted/Eversource leasing of the facility ends. The state would contribute $35.5 million.

The port authority would receive another $2.5 million from the wind farm developers during the three-year development project, bringing the total investment to $93 million.

David Kooris, chairman of the port authority board, tells us details will change as a result of the continuing negotiations, some perhaps substantially. An agreement could be presented to the authority board Jan. 21. While some specifics could be protected from disclosure as proprietary, the public should be informed of the parameters of the deal and allowed to be heard at a hearing before any final vote.

Deadlines in the memorandum have already been missed. The developers face target dates contained in their offshore energy production contracts. So we recognize the need for the process to move forward expeditiously, but it cannot do so at the expense of public input.

Memorandum language stating “the CPA shall be responsible for excess costs, whether from the state or CPA sources,” is concerning. A final deal cannot expose the state to any blank-check obligation for overruns.

New London still does not have that representative on the port authority board promised by the governor nearly a year ago. It adds to our concern that the host city will not get fair treatment. Details of compensation to New London must accompany a final deal.

It is hard to mess up something this positive. A major reinvestment in State Pier. A massive renewable-energy project. The promise of construction and permanent jobs. Yet a fumbling and obscured approach has done just that. It’s long past time to clean things up.

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 Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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