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State Pier rehab plans moving through environmental approval process

State environmental officials said Tuesday they had yet to see compelling evidence that would prevent the approval of a massive modernization project proposed for State Pier in New London.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection held a virtual public hearing as part of an application for work at the pier led by the Connecticut Port Authority. Officials heard from opponents and advocates of a project that would transform the pier into an offshore wind hub.

The estimated $200 million project is slated to start this year and includes a variety of site improvements, dredging, the installation of a bulkhead and filling in the area between State Pier and the adjoining Central Vermont Railroad Pier to create one larger pier.

DEEP will continue to collect public comments over the next several days, but Michael Grzywinski, of DEEP’s Land and Water Resource Division, said the submissions gathered to date have not turned up anything that would change the agency’s determination to approve the project.

He said a thorough review of the project, coupled with some proposed conditions, shows that it satisfies all statutory and regulatory policies, standards and criteria. DEEP issued a tentative determination to approve the project in December.

“It was determined that the environmental impacts associated with the proposed project have been minimized to the greatest extent practicable and have been found to be acceptable,” Grzywinski said.

The review considered potential impact to fish, shellfish, wildlife, water quality and navigation conflicts with existing water-dependent uses.

The proposed project is the result of an agreement between the state and joint venture partners of Danish offshore wind company Ørsted and Eversource. The pier would be used as a staging area to support offshore wind farms and create an estimated 400 jobs. The newest estimates put the project at $200 million.

Two dozen of the 80 people in attendance spoke at the hearing, conducted on Zoom. They offered a mix of praise and disdain.

State Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut President and CEO Tony Sheridan and Mystic Aquarium President Stephen Coan were among project supporters.

Nolan called it an “an incredible opportunity,” with the potential to make New London a regional epicenter of the offshore wind industry.

Sheridan said the project would “catapult Connecticut to be the lead state in the nation for offshore wind energy” and said the facility will become an asset to the state and the region.

Coan said the project was a step toward reducing dependency on fossil fuels.

“There’s always a not-in-my-backyard argument, but if our country is serious and we’re serious about making improvements in the quality of our environment and reducing carbon emissions, then this project is extraordinarily important. This needs to be in our backyard,” Coan said.

Connecticut Port Authority critic Kevin Blacker, who has led opposition to the project, said he thought the project was not getting an unbiased review and DEEP was using bad judgment based on promises of “imaginary” jobs and revenues.

“Acceptable. So that’s that’s the term Michael Grzywinski used to describe filling in seven acres of the Thames River. That’s a joke. I think that’s a slap in the face to every person that owns a marina who knows what the Connecticut DEEP makes them go through and how difficult it would be if they wanted to dump two wheelbarrows full of material into the river or the ocean,” Blacker said. “But when the state is doing a project, the rules go out the window.”

City attorney Jeffrey Londregan, part of Tuesday's panel due to the city's status as an intervening party, did not comment.

DEEP continues to accept submitted comments through March 26 and will conduct an evidentiary hearing starting March 30. For more details visit the DEEP website.

g.smith@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the spelling of Stephen Coan.

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