Will Gov. Lamont entertain public input on a wind-only port?
Let's all humor Gov. Ned Lamont and join him in looking away from the messy scandals at the Connecticut Port Authority and concentrate instead on the wind deal that the troubled agency hatched, a plan that could close the port of New London to traditional cargo for the better part of a generation.
If I have the governor's timetable correct, there will soon be a grand unveiling of the final $93 million plan, as already sketched out in permit applications, to convert New London's port to a giant wind turbine assembly pad.
This apparently would be a final, lawyer-scrutinized deal, ready for the limping port authority to gavel it into reality.
Apparently, the public will get a look-see at the ribbon-wrapped deal before it is signed. A hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 17 in New London, at a location to be announced.
Will the public have any meaningful input at all into a project of such magnitude and consequence? Is there any hope of the public influencing what will happen to this port? If not, shame on this governor.
Has any consideration been given to the considerable clamor for keeping the traditional side of the port operating. This includes the opinions of two local legislators to a plea from the U.S. congressman for this part of the state, who complained that the $7 million he secured in federal funding for improvements to the rail line to the port was intended to initiate new manufacturing supported by a multi-modal cargo link.
There's no evidence of any change in the plans, as final negotiations conclude, to close the port to traditional cargo. Could the governor surprise us?
Expect a lot of big talk Sept. 17 about hopes that a busy wind assembly port, used for wind farms serving Connecticut as well as other states, might eventually lure overseas manufacturers to actually build the turbines here.
Even David Kooris, the interim port authority chair, admits that's a "big if."
In the meantime, the reality is that the assembly of foreign-manufactured turbines, for a majority-foreign-owned wind company, is expected to produce 300 jobs, about what you would get from a new Walmart. Excuse my yawn.
Meanwhile, the ethically challenged port authority signed up the operator of the competing New Haven port to run New London's, an inherent conflict, an arrangement that shipping executives tell me is already diverting cargo from eastern Connecticut.
Closing the port to all but wind will shut off local public works departments from a convenient and moderately priced source of road salt. It will also, in apparent violation of state coastal management law, displace another water-dependent use: a fishing fleet moored there.
And what of the displacement of the revitalized rail link for getting traditional cargo, generated and needed inland, to and from ships? That's certainly a water-dependent use, a historic one at that.
I hope the governor's team comes well prepared to answer these questions Sept. 17 and explain why the wind companies need exclusive use of the sprawling waterfront at the pier complex to assemble their foreign-made turbines.
By Sept. 17, the governor also should come up with a better formula for sharing revenue from the port with the city. The current deal — 10 percent of the port authority's revenue — is absurd, or as state Sen. Cathy Osten would have it, "miniscule." Why should the city, which collects no property taxes on the pier, get only a pittance from the riches slated to go to a quasi-public agency with a few employees? The port authority doesn't repair roads or educate children. Mostly, it seems, it takes care of cronies.
I'm all for offshore wind as a promising source of renewable energy, at a time the country has forsaken its responsibility to tame global warming.
I think the governor's $35 million bet on developing a wind terminal in New London is fine. The idea that eastern Connecticut will become a hub for an established turbine manufacturing industry migrating from overseas seems to me to be great fantasy, although I would be delighted to be wrong about that.
New Bedford, Mass., when it accommodated a wind assembly facility in its harbor, didn't have to give up its fishing fleet or the rest of its port.
New London shouldn't, either.
This is the opinion of David Collins.
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