State Pier operator notifies occupants it's time to go
New London — With the offshore wind industry poised to move in, time is running short for the tenants and work crews at State Pier who expect to be displaced as early as next month.
The businesses operating at the pier recently received a March 31 deadline to vacate, leaving some scrambling to find an alternate location to stay afloat.
Negotiations with port operator Gateway for an extension of time appear to be ongoing.
Peter Olsen, the longtime president of the International Longshoremen's Association 1411, which handles cargo at the pier, said Gateway President Jim Dillman notified him by email on Feb. 20 that, as anticipated, Gateway must cease its operations by the end of next month, and that any and all cargo must be removed from the facility by then.
Dillman confirmed to The Day late last year that the longshoremen would be without work at the port at the end of March in preparation for the redevelopment of the pier. No ships will be coming in to New London's deepwater port during the $157 million redevelopment project to transform the pier into a wind turbine staging area for offshore wind developers Ørsted-Eversource.
Construction at the pier is expected to start in early 2021 and be completed by August 2022 but preconstruction work will begin before that.
Matt Satnick, CO/CEO of Enstructure, Gateway's parent company, said discussions are ongoing between the company, the Connecticut Port Authority and Ørsted-Eversource — the parties to the redevelopment agreement — to ensure that Gateway meets its obligations as part of the agreement and the redevelopment timeline, but also to ensure as smooth a transition as possible for its tenants at State Pier.
Satnick said Gateway is sticking with the March 31 deadline, with the caveat that the company is talking with the various tenants to figure out "what needs they have to minimize disruption."
"We want everyone to land on their feet," he said. "We care a lot about the continuity of those relationships."
One thing that's for sure is no ships will come in to the port between now and the end of March. The last ship to come in was on Feb. 16 and was carrying salt.
Olsen said that, given the delay in reaching a final agreement on the redevelopment plan, and because construction isn't supposed to start until early 2021, "we were optimistic that we were going to be able to stay on at least through the summer."
Other tenants were counting on more time and were dismayed by the short notice from Gateway.
There are 45 longshoremen who work at the pier. Of them, eight are full-time employees.
Chris Bachant, president of Carpenters Local 326, said he has been working with Olsen to find employment for the eight full-timers. He said if the carpenters union is involved in the redevelopment of the pier, he can guarantee jobs for them, and maybe for other workers, as well. Dillman said he's also been in discussion with Bachant to try to secure work for the longshoremen.
Some of the part-time longshoremen already have found other work, but most are still looking for jobs, Olsen said.
"The reality is setting in that the end is near," he said, adding that he is working to ensure as many of the longshoremen as possible have a "soft landing."
One of the most visible tenants at State Pier is DRVN Enterprises. The company’s mountain of salt, an estimated 95,000 tons, remains on a portion of the pier property.
DRVN President Steve Farrelly started the business at the pier in 2014 and supplies numerous municipalities and the state with road salt. In a normal winter — when there is snow — he said the pile would have been 80% gone by now.
But it has not been a normal winter and the future of his business could hinge on decisions made in the coming weeks.
Considering it took 10 days to offload, Farrelly said, he will be hard-pressed to move the salt out by the end of March. Even if he could move it out on time, he has yet to find a new location.
“I was hoping there would be an easy resolution, allowing me to more time to do what I have to do,” he said.
He has yet to hear from Gateway about the possibility of keeping the salt where it is until next winter. It is unclear what would happen to the salt should it remain on site after March 31.
“There’s not a lot of places to move and stockpile that kind of tonnage under a cover that’s going to be allowed. Time is against me,” Farrelly said.
His business relies on providing salt at a discounted price, which can only be achieved with access to the pier, he said. It makes for a cloudy future for his business.
“New London was the perfect spot. It did work for six years,” he said.
He said he’s probably brought in about 20 ships to the pier through the years, generated jobs for dozens of trucking companies and support services. He says his entry into the salt market led to dramatic drops in cost per ton to municipalities, one of the reasons he had anticipated more widespread support from local leaders for his plight.
At the adjoining Central Vermont Railroad Pier, part of the State Pier property, commercial scallop fisherman Kevin Debbis of Montville is in a similar predicament.
He surmised his time was limited but said he was caught off guard by the short notice. He’s trying to find a spot for his 55-foot boat, Lynn Marie, which along with at least two other fishing boats has been working off of the pier. He has called the pier home for nearly two decades.
Debbis supplies his fresh catch to a host of local restaurants and fish markets and, prior to being kicked out, said he was in the planning stages of purchasing a second boat.
“We know we have to move but we just don’t know where to go,” he said.
Among options available is space at the pier at Fort Trumbull, operated by New London Seafood, or somewhere along City Pier, an idea Mayor Michael Passero is championing.
Passero has been meeting with the fishermen and contacting state officials about the idea of renovating and turning Fisherman’s Pier, at the south end of Waterfront Park, into a working dock for the fishermen. The move would be in line with his plans to generate more activity on the city’s waterfront.
Passero said he has enlisted engineers for preliminary cost estimates of placing pilings around the pier to allow boats to tie up, something that can’t be done now. It’s not a perfect solution because of the limited shoreside area but he said there are few other options.
Passero said he additionally plans to work with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection so that the plan doesn’t get bogged down in the permitting process.
With all of the delays in the Connecticut Port Authority’s agreement with Ørsted/Eversource, he said there was an assumption port tenants would get more time.
“I don’t know what’s changed,” Passero said. “We thought we were partners with the Connecticut Port Authority. Having the port operator giving 30-day eviction notices is a shock to us at this point.”
“It’s annoying that nobody at the port authority or state has informed the city. And I thought we were working together to relocate the fishermen. It’s still my understanding they will not be required to move until they are accommodated at a new location,” he said.
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