Are Trojan horses full of windmill parts destined for New London?
Never mind the caravan of Hondurans headed toward the country's southern border — I am worried about a theoretical caravan of giant Trojan horses, full of windmill parts, destined to be heading toward New London, which is being groomed as a principal East Coast host port for offshore wind farm development.
Connecticut Democrats are excited about what is beginning to look like the inevitable formation of this windmill caravan. I don't blame them.
The prospect of a busy port in New London as the focal point of an emerging new industry of well-paying jobs assembling and shipping the giant windmill turbines is tempting, indeed. The unions, too, are growing hungry for it.
The development of a new manufacturing base for the state is an exciting prospect, and good luck to those trying to make it happen.
I worry, though, that it is destined to become one more way in which New London is made to selflessly help the region and the state, without adequate compensation. Already, of course, the city bears too much of the burden of regional services, from social services nonprofits, a hospital, courthouses and colleges, while getting little return in lieu of property taxes.
State Pier is already a substantial part of this unfair equation, and the contemplated expansion there is inevitably only going to exacerbate the situation, with an increased burden on city services.
Making matters worse, the Connecticut Port Authority is interested in expanding into the 12 acres on Crystal Avenue, the site of the now abandoned housing towers, which the city acquired with the hope of putting on the tax rolls.
The last thing the city needs is more development on land it can't tax.
I've yet to hear a convincing argument about how a wind-powered expansion of State Pier is going to specifically help New London, not just the region and the state.
I reached Scott Bates, chairman of the port authority, this week, and I didn't hear anything powerful from him when I asked what a growing port will do for the city of New London. He mentioned that it would "put New London on the map" as a center of economic activity and that related side businesses could emerge.
Excuse me while I yawn. That doesn't promise much for paying for more police or emergency and planning services or to plow or pave any streets.
And, yes, the businesses in Hodges Square near the port would sell many more grinders and beers. Good for them.
Bates did say that he has family ties to New London and would work to develop a partnership to see that the city benefits from the pier. I'll take him at his word on that.
I would like to hear, instead, though, some concrete promises about ways a growing port can help New London, from a pledge that city residents get a hiring preference to a formula in which the city directly would get a cut of port fees and revenue.
How about some bipartisan work by the region's legislative delegation to make sure New London gets a fair share of the direct revenue from any successful development of its deepwater port?
The state already has pledged $15 million in improvements for State Pier. The rich international wind developers will match that.
Let's hear about some big investments in the host city. Why not start by making the wind developers buy and pay taxes on the Crystal Avenue property, instead of trying to use state ownership of it as a tax shelter?
City advocates should pay close attention to this as it unfolds and make sure Mayor Michael Passero, negotiator in chief, thinks big and doesn't get fleeced, as the caravan of Trojan horses rumbles toward New London.
This is the opinion of David Collins.
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Closing New London's port to traditional cargo could divert ships to the non-union port of New Haven and take work away from New London's unionized longshoremen.