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Is State Pier another of Gov. Lamont's dead deals?

The country just finished with a president who got elected promoting himself as the master of the art of the deal and then governed as a deal-making failure. I will concede some would disagree about that failure.

Now, Connecticut has a governor who apparently likes to think of himself as a dealmaker, but who so far seems to have soured every deal he's come near.

Here we are at the outset of a new legislative session and we are faced once again with revisiting all of Gov. Lamont's failed deals or attempts to deal on policy, from sports betting to legal marijuana.

His failure to make a deal with lawmakers on tolls was so resounding that no one is even considering revisiting it again. Clearly, the governor is never going to get that big plane off the ground. That deal seems dead for good with a Lamont administration.

Lamont did some boasting about his deal-making abilities in an interview last month with The Day's editorial board, when he was trying to sell his deal to transform State Pier in New London into a wind-turbine assembly port.

"I usually get deals done," the governor said. "But you can tell a little bit of frustration in my voice."

Indeed, the governor, disclosing for the first time potential cost overruns of 25% or more on the project, which most recently was valued at $157 million, suggested his monumentally expensive State Pier deal is souring.

"Look, I've been doing deals all my life," he told the editorial board. "Sometimes I find if the deal doesn't get done in a reasonable amount of time, it just wasn't meant to get done."

I'm going to defer to others who know more about Lamont's history of deal-making in his business life. But I gather from all I've read that his vast fortune has more to do with inheritance from a great-grandfather who was at the right hand of J.P. Morgan than the deals in which his small company wired some college campuses with cable television, hardly an outstanding record in that industry.

As I focus on Lamont's deal-making failures as governor, I can't help lament the imminent State Pier fiasco, not just because it is probably not going to produce anything that was promised, but because it is going to harm the status quo that existed when the governor arrived on the scene.

Without the governor approving cost overruns for the pier project in the tens of millions of dollars — a prospect that seems dubious at best, based on his comments to the editorial board — it seems equally unlikely the wind utilities will make up the difference.

After all, they've refused even to throw a few bones, pennies on the dollars in the big deal, New London's way.

So if the deal collapses and the utilities decide to walk, the major remake is scrapped and the wind dealers might only use the port for a few years, as contractually required, for some minor assembly work.

And the state's historic port in New London would remain under the control of the competing private port of New Haven. To see the practical consequences of that you need only look at the road salt shortage created this week by the New Haven port's closing New London for use by a competing salt dealer.

The failure of the State Pier deal seemed obvious to me when the agreement was signed last February, and yet participants at a chest-pounding, back-slapping, mostly all-male press conference declared it bullet proof.

David Kooris, the Connecticut Port Authority chairman, who Lamont has put in charge of what may turn out to be his biggest failed deal, that day dismissed leaked reports of estimates showing the cost of the pier remake to be even more than the inflated $200 million now projected.

Kooris, Kosta Diamantis, deputy secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management, in charge of the pier project construction, and the governor all confidently predicted the pier remake would come in on time and under budget.

They are now so far from the original schedule and estimates, just a year later, that their declarations that day are laughable. But it's not funny.

"We will have a premier port, on schedule and on time," Kooris boasted that day, calling the deal "monumental."

"We are very confident of our cost estimates," Diamantis said. "There are no overruns in this project, and there won't be. ... We have a number that is real."

"I spent my life working on transactions," said the governor who aspires to make deals. "This is one we got right."

Until they didn't.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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