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Marine construction firm envisions expansion, new pier in New London

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New London — Mohawk Northeast Inc., a heavy civil construction and engineering company that operates a marine services division in Groton, is contemplating an ambitious expansion project in New London that would boost use of the city's waterfront.

The Plantsville-based company recently purchased three acres of land off Lewis Street on the Thames River adjacent to State Pier that a century ago was the site of the Thames River Lumber Company, a thriving lumber yard complete with a pier for offloading ships carrying wood.

The site, just north of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge, now features a collection of warehouse buildings that Mohawk had been leasing for the past several years and uses for storage of vehicles, equipment and material. Public records show the company, under the name West Bank Properties LLC, purchased the site, listed as 18 Eastern Ave., for $2 million from Eastern Avenue Properties.

Under plans in the early conceptual stage, Mohawk imagines a bulkhead to expand use of the shoreline, a staging area, railroad spur, and a 100-foot-by-400-foot pier — enough space to dock barges and other vessels for repairs or offloading equipment and bulk materials. The parcel offers water access and straddles the rail line, making the site an optimal place to use both the waterway and freight rail for its marine construction operations, said J. David Schill, Mohawk's vice president of special projects and business development.

As opposed to the state-owned State Pier, Mohawk would provide a significant tax boost to the city.

“The area is just not being used. Other than water access, rail access is critical,” Schill said. “There just hasn’t been any private shorefront development related to construction, heavy civil operations, in I can’t remember how long. It’s a shame.”

Mohawk’s marine operations are contained to a Groton site directly across the river from the New London parcel. It maintains four tugs, has numerous barges and cranes and clients that include the Navy, Electric Boat, Coast Guard and state Department of Transportation. Mohawk was the general contractor of the work on the Gold Star Memorial Bridge and performs work on state highways, bridges and shorefront structures.

“Right now, there’s no port other than the State Pier that can be used for these types of projects,” Schill said. “We’re already vested in this area and would love to see New London thrive. Developing this and expanding our operation down here would mean more jobs and more opportunities for the city and for us. It’s a great opportunity for the region.”

Schill said the company performs fabrication work and envisions the New London site being used as a staging area for any number of projects happening in the region.

“The city is extremely excited about this,” New London Mayor Michael Passero said. “It’s an area famously underutilized. They will actually restore port infrastructure to a section of the river that historically had infrastructure but was lost. It’s just another sign that the maritime economy in the Thames River is coming back to life.”

Other recent activity in the commercial and industrial area under the bridge includes the opening of a solid waste management and recycling facility by Connecticut Waste Processing Materials at 45 Fourth St.

Schill is quick to point out that Mohawk’s plans still are in the "very preliminary stages.” The company has had discussions with city officials and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and plans future talks with the Army Corps of Engineers about the feasibility of the project.

While initial meetings were positive, Schill said there is still a long way to go before it becomes clear the project can move forward.

Mohawk’s plans are separate from the planned redevelopment of State Pier, which is expected to be transformed into a base of operations for the offshore wind industry. An agreement, among offshore wind developers Ørsted-Eversource, the Connecticut Port Authority and State Pier operator Gateway for the more than $93 million redevelopment of State Pier, still awaits final signatures.

The plans would shrink traditional uses of State Pier and is expected to displace DRVN Enterprises Inc., which stores and provides salt to area municipalities.

Schill said the two projects are not related, though he did not rule out Mohawk performing construction work at State Pier, accommodating operations displaced from the State Pier or even work to support some of the offshore wind industry’s ancillary operations, such as steel fabrication.

Schill said Mohawk’s idea of an expansion project was underway years before news of the offshore wind industry’s venture in New London was made public. Schill said Mohawk in is the marine construction industry and does not anticipate accepting cargo ships at the site.

“It’s not our industry. It’s not what we do. We’re not cargo handlers,” he said. “State Pier has its own operation. There are other entities in the area that need access to marine operations. We’re looking to support any local businesses that we can.”

Passero said the city would partner with Mohawk and any other industry looking to develop the city’s shoreline, and would support their various regulatory applications “vigorously.”

“This is going to be a long process and it's just out of the gates,” Schill said.

g.smith@theday.com

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