State Pier's future — wind or no wind?

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New Haven — Gateway Terminal’s 75-acre footprint in and around this city’s deepwater port is a sprawling operation involving ships, barges, trucks and trains. This past week, piles of scrap metal and salt — the port's main commodities — were low after a ship picked up scrap for export, and a busy winter depleted the salt supply.

A large warehouse on the property sat mostly empty except for some rows of steel coils following “a mad rush that flooded the inventory” in December and January due to the European Union adopting quotas as a result of wide-ranging steel tariffs imposed by the Trump administration, operations manager Mark Augur said.

While not a bustling day at the port, officials say business is good. The company, which employs 105 people, generated more than $50 million in revenue last year. In a given year, more than 200 vessels and barges come in to New Haven’s port. Gateway typically handles about 2 million net tons of cargo and 2,000 railcar loads per year.

By comparison, in 2018, then-terminal operator Logistec predicted it would handle 30 vessels and more than 400,000 metric tons of cargo at State Pier in New London, in what it expected to be a record year.

A fixture on New Haven’s waterfront for more than three decades, Gateway has been growing, and New London has long been seen as a logical place to expand.

"We've been chasing New London for a very long time," Augur said.

Gateway, the state's largest port terminal operator, will oversee operations at State Pier in New London starting May 1, after reaching a 20-year agreement with the Connecticut Port Authority at the start of this year.

What Gateway's operations will look like in New London largely will depend how aggressive the state is in making the facility a major staging area for the development of offshore wind farms. Connecticut has secured 300 megawatts from Orsted's offshore wind farm in federal waters south of Martha's Vineyard, scheduled to be operational by 2023.

"Gateway's proposal included an option for partnering with offshore wind and those negotiations are currently underway," Evan Matthews, head of the port authority, said in a statement Friday.

The port authority's board, at its April 3 meeting, went into executive session to discuss the portion of Gateway's proposal dealing with offshore wind.

Gateway is awaiting more information from the state and port authority that would spell out how the facility would be used by the offshore wind industry.

"Part of what we're waiting to understand is if this goes full offshore wind, we have to get a lot smarter on the supply chain management, understand the ship traffic and acreage availability," said Matt Satnick, co-CEO of Enstructure, Gateway's financial partner in State Pier.

The first real opportunity to expand into New London came last year, when the port authority — in charge of marketing and developing Connecticut’s maritime industry, including its three deepwater ports — sought proposals for an operator at State Pier. Montreal-based Logistec has run the pier for the past 20-plus years. Logistec put in a bid to continue its operations but Gateway was selected instead.

In its bid to be pier operator, Gateway had highlighted its "extensive customer relationships" and the diversity of the products it handles, many of which are not being handled in New London. The company outlined a vision of increasing the volume of cargo coming into New London's deepwater port, especially steel coils, steel rebar, steel beams and salt. Gateway also proposed introducing a weekly, short-line container-on-barge service.

“Our view is we can do anything. We can do conventional cargo, offshore wind. We’re very comfortable with bigger projects and properly training our guys, sending people over to Europe, if necessary, to train,” Satnick said, referring to the expensive, specialized equipment used by the offshore wind industry.

The company anticipates employing between eight and 10 full-time employees in New London, and expects to have an agreement in place by May 1 with the local longshoremen union to continue unloading cargo coming in to State Pier. The company is hoping to maintain existing business at the pier, including the salt distribution business operated by DRVN Enterprises.

“The big question still remains wind versus non-wind, and how do you think about utilizing the property, which very much depends on the broader vision around offshore wind,” Satnick said.

Following the footsteps of several Northeast states, Connecticut lawmakers are pushing for a heavy long-term procurement of offshore wind power. A proposal in the General Assembly calls for 2,000 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind farms in the next decade. Gov. Ned Lamont has submitted his own bill, which sets a goal of up to 1,000 megawatts of offshore wind power.

"Wind power is going to be a significant piece of our future, and New London is at the very front of the line," Lamont said in New London in January. “State Pier is about clean energy and what that means for our future, but it’s also about what this port means. And this is going to be one of the most important ports in New England.”

j.bergman@theday.com

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