Recent upheaval rocks confidence in Port Authority

Recent events and a lack of openness have eroded confidence that the Connecticut Port Authority can adequately fulfill its mission to capitalize on the economic potential of the state’s deep-water ports and, in particular, position the state as a leader in serving as a staging area for offshore wind-farm development.

A month ago, Scott Bates departed as chairman of the port authority board. He remains a member. The timing appeared odd. At the time, Bates said it was “time to evolve to new challenges” with a “robust leadership team” in place. He also referenced “the deal done in New London.”

But that $93 million public-private partnership deal, announced with fanfare at State Pier by Gov. Ned Lamont on May 2, remains unsigned and leadership has been shaken.

The tentative lease agreement involving the port authority, State Pier operator Gateway and Bay State Wind, a joint venture between the international offshore wind company Ørsted and Eversource, envisions utilizing New London as a staging area for wind-farm development.

On Friday, Bates said that after nearly four years serving as the first chairman of the quasi-public agency, an unpaid position, he simply felt it was time to pass the torch. He pointed to the authority’s achievements in reaching the tentative deal, signing a contract with Gateway to manage the port, and developing a strategic plan.

Also Friday, Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder, the new authority chair, said she was “highly confident” a final agreement will be reached.

But adding to the sense of disarray was the placement on leave of port authority Executive Director Evan Matthews. No announcement was made about this action. It should have been. That would have been acting in a transparent fashion.

Instead it leaked out in news reports. Only when pressed, did the Lamont administration Thursday confirm Matthews’ status. Adding to the confusion, it announced an interim director had been appointed. That is not the case, said Reemsnyder, who said she is working with staff on administrative matters.

Matthews may be in trouble for inappropriate comments he made about a critic of the port authority.

Personnel matters are sensitive, that’s understandable, but there is no excuse for the authority’s failure to be forthright about the timing and handling.

Finally, Lamont has not fulfilled his pledge to place New London Mayor Michael Passero on the board, having failed to get necessary legislation passed. Lamont should pursue it if there is a special session.

High hopes remain for the authority, but it has not been a good few weeks.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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