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Will Lamont finish destroying New London's road salt business?

Gov. Ned Lamont's Connecticut Port Authority won't disclose this on its chirpy new website, launched recently to provide updates on the $157 million plan to rebuild State Pier in New London to accommodate rich wind power utilities, but the project is woefully behind schedule.

But then why would the governor and his scandal-scarred port authority start being honest with the public now, as much more of its dirty work, like putting a thriving Connecticut enterprise out of work, lies ahead?

After all, the port authority broke its own bidding rules for a dual-use port of wind and cargo and granted the contract to run State Pier to Gateway Terminal of New Haven, which was happy to close the competing port in New London to traditional cargo and make way for wind turbines.

Who wouldn't want a little help from the state shutting down a competing deepwater port?

The extra prize for politically connected Gateway was displacing DRVN Enterprises, a home-grown road salt importer and distributor that brought competition and lower prices to a marketplace dominated by Gateway and its affiliated salt importing and distribution businesses.

DRVN is being evicted from State Pier, and the latest deadline for the company to remove its $5 million mountain of salt stored there is the end of next month.

DRVN's owner, Steven Farrelly, says there is nowhere to move the salt, and if he isn't given time to sell it off during the winter road salt season, he will have to forfeit it — likely tipping his company, with its 12 full-time employees and dozens of subcontractors, paid some $3.5 million annually, into bankruptcy.

I can only imagine the pressure Farrelly and his family face during this already-fraught COVID-19 holiday season.

Given the long delays in the schedule for work on the pier, there seems no reason why DRVN shouldn't be given an extension, unless some people want to be sure to finish crushing for good Gateway's competitor in the road salt business.

Farrelly shared a copy with me of a letter he sent last week to Lamont, literally pleading for an extension that would allow him to sell his salt into the winter season, keeping his employees fed and creditors at bay.

It pains me to see someone who has done nothing wrong have to beg. His letter to the governor, asking for something that will cost the state nothing, is painfully polite.

"As a responsible and valuable Certified Small Business for the past 21 years in Connecticut, I would only hope you would want to help us stay in business, not lose the many jobs we have worked hard to create within our company and for the many subcontractors and vendors who worked with us," Farrelly wrote to the governor.

Farrelly told me he has not had a response.

I picture Lamont, the prince of Greenwich, tossing the letter in the waste can and going back to more important matters, like buffing his loafers.

The February agreement to remake State Pier laid out an aggressive timetable, with many of those milestones already missed.

State and federal environmental permits for the work were supposed to be issued by Nov. 12. Public hearings on the applications for permits haven't even been held yet.

Construction bids also were supposed to be issued this month, but of course you can't hire contractors until you have permits to do the work.

There is no way, even in someone's wildest fantasy, that this work is going to begin before a substantial part of the winter road salt season has gone by. I'll bet Vegas bookies would give you good odds it will take a lot longer than that.

I am not sure which is worse, the way Gov. Lamont is choking the life out of a Connecticut business that has successfully lowered road salt prices paid by the state's municipalities, or the way Attorney General William Tong has chosen to look away.

When he could still afford a lawyer, Farrelly hired the one-time chief prosecutor for a previous attorney general in antitrust matters, who beseeched Tong to look into the antitrust abuses here.

The attorney general, who has refused to make public whistleblower complaints about corruption at the port authority, run by prominent Democrats, chose to look away from the antitrust complaint, maybe buffing his own loafers.

And where are the voices of all the politicians of eastern Connecticut, Republican and Democrat, who stand by silently while a legitimate small businessman complains the state is about to snuff out his business?

Mobsters show more mercy.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

Editor's Note: This column has been edited to remove racially insensitive language.


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