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Lamont vs. New London

If I had been drinking coffee when I read about Ned Lamont's recent interview with The Day's Editorial Board, I would most certainly have spit it out when I got to the part where the governor casually revealed that the estimated cost of his giant boondoggle at State Pier has, without explanation, risen by more than $40 million in less than a year.

Yikes.

The project to accommodate the offshore wind farm of two rich utilities, one foreign, started at $93 million, zoomed up to $157 million this time last year and is now more than $200 million and rising, the governor suggested, in what was almost an aside in the conversation.

The state has agreed to cover all the cost overruns, which seem to be exploding, even before bids have been opened.

What was most shocking and aggravating about the interview was that the governor, addressing a New London newspaper, went on to criticize the city for its lack of support for a project on track to clock in at more than a quarter of a billion dollars.

Let's remember that Lamont, who has not made good on his promise to give New London a seat at the table as the Connecticut Port Authority maps out the State Pier project, also didn't include the city in the principal agreement with the utilities, telling Mayor Michael Passero he could make his own deal to compensate for the lack of tax revenues from the giant commercial project.

So, really, there's nothing in it at all for the city, which instead will certainly face increased costs for policing, emergency services and the impact on local roads and traffic, all the things tax payments are supposed to reimburse municipalities for.

Even the rosiest job estimates for the work of assembling wind turbines at the pier — they are manufactured overseas — indicate there will be hardly more employees hired than for a new Walmart. And there is nothing to say those jobs would go to city residents.

The State Pier deal, which Lamont used the scandal-plagued port authority to consummate, has been the product of backdoor meetings from the beginning.

Never mind not bringing New London to the table, the public has been excluded all along, too.

The port authority, under Lamont's direction, offered a gag settlement to keep a port authority employee from talking to the news media about scandals there and has vigorously fought disclosures of things like legal bills in defiance of Freedom of Information laws.

I filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission this month over the governor's dogged refusal to comply with FOI laws and produce communications between his office and the port authority chairman. Those public documents would certainly shed some light on the exploding cost estimates.

Meanwhile, the project is already woefully behind schedule. Final environmental permits were supposed to be issued last November. Here we are in the middle of January, and hearings on the permits, which will be opposed, have not even been scheduled.

A new website launched by the port authority to report on progress of the project is deceptively perky and pointedly misleading. It says those substantial permits, to fill in 7 acres of the harbor, which have not yet been through a public hearing, will be issued in March. This level of distortion would almost be laughable if it weren't so pernicious.

So Gov. Lamont has crafted a deal, involving spending by the state of historic proportions, a gift to benefit two big private utilities, with great attempts at secrecy, sometimes in violation of public disclosure laws.

He gave the city that will host the giant project absolutely no input and set the stage for city taxpayers to get no relief whatsoever for their significant contribution and costs.

Then he whines to the local newspaper in the struggling, poor city of New London, that he is tired of being the only cheerleader for the project.

It sure looks like the whole thing is going down the drain, and Lamont is looking for scapegoats.

All I could think of when I read the governor's comments, given his enormous insensitivity to the city's woes, was the newspaper headline that followed President Gerald Ford's refusal of aid to New York City in its time of financial crisis: Drop dead.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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