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Work with local road-salt business displaced at State Pier

DRVN Enterprises set up shop at State Pier in New London in 2013 with a business model that seemed solid. It utilized the port to import road salt and an agreement with the former operator of the state facility, Logistec, to store its product. It competed for public and private business contracts, providing welcomed competition to suppress prices by way of a local supplier.

Then things changed. Control of the facility was transferred from the state Department of Transportation to the Connecticut Port Authority, created by state legislation in 2014. With the Logistec lease expiring, the port authority went to bid in 2018 to find the best deal for the facility, with Logistec competing to remain the pier operator.

By then, the vision for the facility had changed. An offshore wind-power industry was emerging. The New London port, with its access to future offshore wind fields unimpeded by bridges or other infrastructure, was particularly well positioned to serve as a pre-assembly and distribution hub for the massive wind turbines.

That is the big picture. The planned redevelopment of the pier to serve an emergent — in this country — offshore wind industry will be a job creator and major economic engine, while contributing to something that is desperately needed, a reduction in fossil-fuel dependence.

A public-private partnership will redevelop the pier as a staging area for the Revolution Wind energy project, a partnership of Eversource and Danish company Ørsted. Revolution Wind has committed to investing $77.5 million and the state and port authority at least $79 million, though the state’s costs could go higher if there are overruns.

Once the overhaul is completed, Revolution Wind will lease the State Pier for $2 million per year for 20 years. The heavy-lift equipment installed in support of the offshore wind project will remain port authority property and boost the port’s freight-bearing capacity when traditional port functions return in the 2040s.

It should be a success story, but the port authority has made a mess of things. In its start-up years, no-bid contracts were awarded and thousands of dollars expended on dining and travel by authority staff without proper documentation or justification, a state audit found.

The decision to award Gateway Terminal, operators of the port terminal in New Haven, the contract to also operate the New London port, thus displacing Logistec, remains a point of controversy. Abandoned with Gateway’s selection was the original stated policy to continue using State Pier for freighter deliveries, with occasional disruptions, even as the offshore wind-power support hub was developed. Instead, the full focus will be on getting the pier redeveloped for the wind project. Other activities have ceased.

From a state perspective, this makes some sense. State Pier New London can be retooled without the state losing freighter business because it can be diverted to Gateway’s New Haven port. But the loss of diversity in the use of State Pier was not good news for the New London port, with the city and region left hoping a wind-development hub, once completed, will be worth the tradeoff.

Which brings things back to DRVN. The company has been given until year’s end to move its road salt material, which the company has estimated as worth $5 million. Owner Steven Farrelly has said he has been unable to find an alternative location. The salt would default to the port authority if it’s not moved.

The authority should extend the agreement through the winter, giving DRVN the opportunity to sell off its product. Progress on permitting and the awarding of construction bids is behind schedule. Nothing significant will be happening at that site this winter. Meanwhile, the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, whose member towns have reason to want to maintain competition, should make it self available to help DRVN find the means to continue.

Day columnist David Collins, in a series of reports, has pointed to Gateway not only gaining shipping commerce for its New Haven facility, but to its interesting connections to the road salt industry as well, with affiliated salt importing and distribution businesses that compete with DRVN operating out of its port.

It may well be time for the legislature’s Transportation Committee, which held hearings in August 2019 into the port authority’s earlier controversies, to get an update. The authority has a new executive director, John Henshaw, who held the same position for Maine Port Authority. The delays and issues raised by Collins’ latest investigative reporting should be probed as part of any such update.

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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