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Connecticut environmental officials recommend permit for State Pier work in New London

State environmental officials on Friday issued a proposed final decision that would clear one of the final hurdles to the start of major construction on the $235 million State Pier upgrade project.

The decision recommends that the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection issue a final permit to the Connecticut Port Authority for work at State Pier on New London’s waterfront.

The planned work is a modernization and expansion project that initially will accommodate the offshore wind industry. The state has partnered with joint venture partner Ørsted and Eversource, the companies using the pier, to cover costs of the upgrades.

State Pier is composed of two piers: the Admiral Harold E. Shear State Pier and the older Central Vermont Railroad Pier. The DEEP permit sought by the CPA would allow for infrastructure work, dredging, installation of a bulkhead and filling in of 7 acres between the two existing piers to create what is referred to as a central wharf area.

The updated pier is a planned staging area with greatly expanded load capacity to support several offshore wind farms that Ørsted and Eversource have planned.

The news was welcomed by the CPA, which applied for the permit to DEEP and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May 2019, later made revisions and has plans to complete the project sometime next year.

"The Proposed Final Decision issued by DEEP today is a strong decision, based on the robust evidence on the record including expert testimony, and clearly demonstrates how the Hearing Officer's decision effectively considered the relevant statutory and regulatory criteria,” CPA Executive Director John Henshaw said. “We look forward to the Commissioner's timely issuance of the permits."

Friday’s decision, written by DEEP Hearing Officer Brendan Schain, adopts a previously released draft decision and is based on work by the Land and Water Resources division of DEEP’s Bureau of Water Protection and Land Reuse. The proposed work is regulated by state statutes that include the Coastal Management Act.

"The facts and conclusions reached in the Agreed Draft Decision, as supplemented herein, demonstrate that the proposed regulated activities, if conducted in accordance with the terms and conditions of the draft permit ... comply with the relevant statutory and regulatory criteria,” Schain wrote. “The determination is supported by a preponderance of the evidence in the record. I therefore recommend that the Commissioner approve the application and issue a draft permit as a final permit."

DEEP issued its decision over the objection of road salt company DRVN Enterprises, which was a tenant on State Pier but was displaced earlier this year. DEEP ruled that a hearing on the objection was “neither necessary nor required.” DRVN Enterprises owner and President Steven Farrelly was not immediately available to comment on the decision.

In addition to DEEP, the project was reviewed by the state Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Aquaculture, which determined work would not significantly impact a shellfish area.

One of the requirements in the decision mandates that the CPA maintain a 300-foot buffer between construction work and a peregrine falcon that nests on the Gold Star Memorial Bridge. The peregrine falcon is listed as a threatened species in Connecticut. Construction is supposed to stop if the falcon is observed near the work and the CPA is to hire a falcon monitor to evaluate the bird's behavior during breeding season for signs of stress associated with the work.

Schain, in his decision, addressed some of the controversy surrounding the use of State Pier solely by the wind industry for a period of time, along with some other topics raised by critics of the project.

“The hearing process is not a referendum on which types of cargo the Applicant should allow to pass through its facility, and this is not a forum in which to debate the relative merits of wind power as either a source of clean energy or a driver of economic development,” Schain wrote. “Indeed, it is the applicant who must select the activities for which it will seek a permit; I am tasked only with determining if those activities selected — and the manner in which they will be conducted — comply with relevant law.”

Ørsted and Eversource are contributing $70 million toward the construction project, a portion of which honors a $22.5 million commitment from Deepwater Wind, which Ørsted purchased for $510 million in 2018. Deepwater constructed the Block Island Wind Farm, the first operational offshore wind farm in the country and now operated by Ørsted.

Ørsted and Eversource have committed to paying the CPA more than $20 million over 10 years while at the pier. Ørsted and Eversource separately signed a host community agreement with New London earlier this year that provides an average of at least $750,000 per year to the city over seven years with provisions up to $1.5 million per year and possibility of an extension to the agreement.

New London will continue to receive payments, currently at $125,000 per year, from the state’s payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, program and $125,000 per year as part of the state’s agreement with the CPA and port operator Gateway Terminal.

g.smith@theday.com

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