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    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    The rising cost of Lamont's State Pier plan is secret

    State Pier and Central Vermont Pier at the Adm. Harold E. Shear Marine Terminal in New London on April 25, 2014, from the air the Thames River. Plans call for filling in the space between the two piers to accommodate the burgeoning offshore wind industry. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    I don't know which is worse, the fact that Gov. Ned Lamont is planning in secret to spend probably millions of dollars more than the $35 million already promised for its share of a rebuild of State Pier for exclusive use by a rich Danish conglomerate, or that Connecticut lawmakers don't seem to care.

    Worse, it appears the governor is agreeing to a blank check for overruns on a project first estimated at $93 million. Is the sky the limit?

    Are lawmakers complicit? Uninterested? Mute? Whatever the handicap or reason for inertia, it is disheartening and seems pervasive among both Democrats and Republicans.

    Don't any of them want to see something so important, expensive and long lasting deliberated in the open?

    I have not heard one peep from a single lawmaker about plans revealed last week to have the scandal-crippled Connecticut Port Authority soon sign a new deal — negotiated in secret — for the controversial conversion of State Pier into a wind turbine assembly facility, with Connecticut taxpayers apparently pledged to funding cost overruns.

    The little we know about this pending deal is all that David Kooris, Lamont's puppet chairman of the port authority, seated by the governor after leaving state employment, with an interim appointment due to expire before lawmakers can review it, has agreed to disclose.

    Kooris said after a board meeting last week — in which the finished deal, with its undisclosed, escalating price, was discussed in executive session — that the board could vote on it at a February meeting or sooner.

    Kooris suggested there might be a news briefing of some kind ahead of time but couldn't promise anything, certainly not an actual release of the documents.

    Any lawmaker with a heartbeat, especially those representing eastern Connecticut, which is about to lose its public historical port, with ship traffic diverted to one privately owned in New Haven, should cry foul about this secret deal.

    A backroom deal with such significant long-term consequences for the regional economy — not to mention rising and undisclosed costs for Connecticut taxpayers, probably in the many millions but who knows? — ought to be aired publicly before getting a green light by the remnants of a nonelected board that presided over a deal-making swamp, toasting themselves with cocktails paid for by the public.

    This is Ned Lamont's Connecticut.

    Kooris said after last week's meeting that the cost of the pier remake has risen because of changes to accommodate complaints from Cross Sound Ferry, which worried about ferry maneuvering space, and to improve connections to the rail link at the pier.

    Of course, we have no idea what the changes are or exactly how much they will cost, and apparently won't before the port authority board acts.

    It is also not clear how the rebuild of the pier can better accommodate the federally funded improvements to the rail line, since the proposal envisioned in the memorandum of understanding signed in April said traditional cargo could only be accommodated at the discretion of the wind companies.

    Most disturbing to me, from what I heard from Kooris last week, is that a provision of the memorandum — that Connecticut cover all cost overruns for the project — remains in the final deal.

    That's why, he said, the cost of improvements for the ferries and rail are being paid by Connecticut taxpayers.

    How much more than $93 million will this thing cost? I can't imagine the possible cost overruns on a two-year project that would fill in seven acres of the harbor.

    We only recently got to see the memorandum, with its blank check provision, after months of stonewalling by the broken port authority and weeks of denial by the governor of a clear Freedom of Information request.

    Who knows how much Lamont eventually will give away secretly with this backroom deal? Connecticut taxpayers could be on the hook and paying this debt long after he is gone.

    Lots of people are making big money on this deal and Connecticut taxpayers have no idea how much it is costing them, just like they don't know how much more they will pay for wind-generated electricity.

    Sadly, Connecticut lawmakers haven't asked and don't seem to care.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.


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