Connecticut Port Authority secures use of more land in New London
New London — The Connecticut Port Authority on Tuesday announced it plans to lease a 5-acre parcel of railroad property adjacent to State Pier that will expand the port’s footprint in New London.
State Pier is the future site of a massive $157 million upgrade project, in part to accommodate a wind turbine staging area for partners Ørsted and Eversource.
Since the offshore wind industry does not require rail service, the port authority has said that in return for the lease, it will help facilitate use of the rail further upriver at the site of a newly proposed pier facility envisioned by Mohawk Northeast Inc., a heavy civil construction and engineering company with operations in New London and Groton.
Mohawk recently purchased 3 acres of land off Lewis Street on the Thames River that straddles the rail line and announced conceptual plans for expansion of the shoreline with a bulkhead, staging area, railroad spur and 100-foot-by-400-foot pier.
Mohawk is working with the state to help facilitate use of rail for its own business and possibly for other operations, including those being displaced from State Pier by the wind industry.
“We’re hoping to fill that void, and one of those voids happens to be the rail line,” said J. David Schill, Mohawk’s vice president of special projects and business development.
Schill said the shared goal is to increase rail commerce throughout the region and, with the loss of a port for the rail, this seems to be a good opportunity. He said Mohawk is still in the early stages of the permitting process and was unclear on specifics of what type of aid might come from the state. He said Mohawk has been in talks with both the railroad owner and port authority.
The news of the lease with the railroad was announced jointly in a statement from the Connecticut Port Authority, state Office of Policy and Management and New England Railroad Inc., a subsidiary of Connecticut-based Genesee & Wyoming Inc. The lease is for $525,000 a year, rising 4% annually. The cost of the lease is incorporated into the $157 million Harbor Development Agreement announced by the governor in February, port authority business and special projects manager Andrew Lavigne said in an email.
“Prior to the Port focusing on wind turbines, the Port handled lumber and steel coil traffic along with copper cathode for both local distribution and for distribution to the Midwest U.S.,” G&W spokesman Michael Williams said in an email Tuesday.
“Additionally, other components for marine construction such as large quarry stone, steel pile and other commodities will all be potentials to ship by rail to and from New London with Mohawk Northeast,” he said.
Kosta Diamantis, deputy secretary for the Office of Policy and Management, said in a statement that “this transaction positions the Port to be a future generator of expended economic activity and jobs growth in the state.”
New England Central Railroad President Len Wagner said in the statement that the agreement builds on completed upgrades to the main rail line through the state. “With the pending completion of upgrades to the line in Massachusetts as well, the railroad will be able to handle modern, fully loaded freight cars from the Port of New London to the Canadian border, and from there throughout North America.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, in a statement, said, "When eastern Connecticut made the successful case in 2014 to the U.S. Department of Transportation to modernize the NECR, access to the Port was an essential component of the plan. As the new configuration of the state pier emerged last August, I pressed the stakeholders to preserve rail inter-connectivity for the Port, both now and in the future.”
“With this agreement now in place, I look forward to continuing to work with NECR, the Authority and other stakeholders in the district to ensure that freight rail continues to provide a viable, energy efficient option for cargo that passes through New London,” he said.
Mayor Michael Passero said the lease agreement was years in the making.
“It’s one step they had to do to develop the port as a wind turbine assembly facility, which is important to our economic diversification,” Passero said. “They checked off another box.”
He awaits finalization of a host community agreement with Ørsted and Eversource that is expected to bring millions of dollars to New London.