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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Lamont floated authority idea. Committee rightly sank it

    The state Appropriations Committee got it right by calling on the legislature to keep the Connecticut Port Authority in place while increasing accountability.

    The committee on April 4 voted to scrap a proposal by Gov. Ned Lamont to absorb the authority into the Connecticut Airport Authority. Instead, its substitute bill would require the port authority to submit quarterly public progress reports to the Appropriations and Transportation committees. The Connecticut General Assembly should approve the revised legislation.

    It will be no surprise to readers that we are pleased to see the committee sink this idea. At the start of the legislative session in February, our editorial called on lawmakers to reject the proposal.

    “The response to past problems at the Connecticut Port Authority should not be to dissolve it,” stated the editorial. “But instead to ensure it is subject to stringent oversight.”

    That is exactly what the Appropriations Committee seeks to do with its amended bill and through existing safeguards that now remain in place.

    The Port Authority has had scandals and problems since its creation in 2014. But matters are trending in the right direction. State Pier in New London, after a massive reconstruction, is serving as a staging area for a new offshore wind power industry. Heavy-lift machinery being installed will allow it to serve other cargo shipping during lulls in offshore wind development.

    The authority also supports and promotes the state’s small harbors and marinas, assures dredging to keep channels functioning, and markets the state’s marine assets, including commercial fishing.

    Ulysses Hammond, interim executive director of the Port Authority, is providing steady management.

    Sen. Cathy Osten, Appropriations Committee co-chair, made an important point that previously enacted oversight rules, including those covering state contracting and procurements, would not have transferred to a new Maritime Authority. That is the name the authority would have operated as, if made a subsidiary of the Airport Authority.

    The legislature increased oversight in response to sketchy accounting and contracting practices at the Port Authority. It would make no sense to dilute the oversight.

    Yes, more legislative amendments could have attempted to plug those oversight holes. But for what purpose? The governor’s office and advocates of the change (there weren’t many) claimed absorbing the Port Authority into the Airport Authority would have made things more efficient. They never made the case as to why that would be so.

    Air travel is certainly important for Connecticut. The Airport Authority is charged with operating and improving Bradley International Airport and the state’s five general aviation airports in Groton-New London, Danielson, Hartford-Brainard, Waterbury-Oxford and Windham.

    But with its border-to-border coastline, its deepwater ports in New London, New Haven and Bridgeport, its recreational boating and tourism business, the maritime industry is also vitally important.

    The most efficient and most accountable approach is maintaining separate authorities with their separate missions.

    Osten, a Democratic senator from Sprague, has shown before that she is willing to buck party leadership, including Gov. Lamont, to do what she thinks is right for our region and the state.

    It may well be that Osten and her committee did the governor a favor. If the absorption of the Port Authority into the larger Airport Authority had won legislative approval, and problems subsequently arose, Lamont would have owned them. Instead, accountability will remain where it should be — with the respective authorities.

    The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.