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Lamont must attend to New London wind project before it falls apart

This might happen elsewhere, we suppose, but it is hard to imagine another scenario in which a city looking at the $157 million transformation of its industrial port, heretofore known mostly for its lack of activity, would craft a legal challenge to stop the plan dead in its tracks.

Welcome to New London.

What the heck is going on here? Nothing but a lack of follow through by the Lamont administration, continued mismanagement by the Connecticut Port Authority, and the wrath of a mayor scorned.

Gov. Ned Lamont was so excited when he showed up at the city’s port in May 2019 to proclaim, “Connecticut’s maritime economy has significant potential to drive economic growth and create jobs across the state, and redeveloping State Pier is a central component to that growth.”

The plan was to use a public-private partnership to transform State Pier into a hub for supporting the first major wind-power development off U.S. shores. And if the project were built out in 20 years or so, State Pier would be left with infrastructure able to handle far heavier freight loads than it can today, boosting its long-term economic potential.

Since the announcement the administration has failed to remain engaged and keep the parties working together to make the project a reality. Lamont’s like a teacher who left the room, blissfully unaware the students are firing objects at one another and work is not getting done as assigned.

When the teacher was in the classroom, New London Mayor Michael Passero took a front seat to make note of his excitement.

“Today our city is emerging as an epicenter of innovation as new businesses and supply chains have invested in our community in preparation for this new industry coming to New London,” Passero said back in the May 2019 news conference.

No longer.

Passero has been stewing for months about the inability to reach a host city agreement with the Ørsted and Eversource partnership that plans to develop the port in support of offshore wind development. The State Pier facility is state property and so exempt from property taxes. The mayor wants New London compensated under the HCA as if it were taxable property.

The state provides PILOT money — payment in lieu of taxes — for its properties, but only a fraction of what would be paid if the land were taxed privately. Reportedly, Ørsted-Eversource has agreed to supplement the PILOT revenues to make the city whole. But the mayor wants assurances that if PILOT money does not grow with the development, or is cut by the state, the developers will make up the difference, a request they haven’t been willing to grant.

This goes a long way in explaining why Passero has just hurled a wrench into the gears of this planned development. City Law Director Jeffrey Londregan, in a Sept. 2 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has argued none of the necessary permits for the project should be granted. Why? Because on the books through 2029 is a now 20-year-old Municipal Development Plan for the pier property. It doesn’t allow some of the things being planned, like filling in between the two piers to form a single, heavy-lift platform.

And the MDP can’t be amended without the city’s approval. Which, we suspect, won’t come without an HCA.

Connecticut Port Authority Board of Directors Chairman David Kooris insists that because the actions contemplated by the MDP at State Pier — the acquiring of additional land — are completed, it is essentially null and void and no city approval is necessary.

Frankly, we don’t know who is right. But we do know that a loose end such as this should have been tied up long ago and is the latest example of CPA mismanagement.

A federal agency like the Army Corps is unlikely to care about this intramural fight and will continue with its permit review, but state environmental approvals are unlikely to move forward unless it is resolved.

Lamont needs to get his administration involved, bring the parties together and help the mayor find a face-saving path to “yes.” In fact, Lamont should have done that before signing the deal with Ørsted-Eversource, when he had leverage.

Perhaps the state can assure the continued PILOT payments through legislation. Maybe Ørsted-Eversource can sweeten the deal with a New London job center, targeting city residents.

If Lamont lets this deteriorate further, he may find he’s wearing the dunce cap in the corner for letting his prized project fall apart.

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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