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Game on: Mayor Passero dons his superhero cape

I will admit I have a soft spot for stories in which a long-suffering underdog takes a deep breath, flexes his muscles and stands up on tippy toes to confront a big, bad bully.

From my perspective, that's what happened this week, when the City of New London, cut out of the deal to turn its deepwater port over to a pair of rich utilities, one foreign, filed paperwork to participate in hearings that will consider the environmental impacts of the massive project — with its cost overruns coming in at increments of tens of millions of dollars — to remake State Pier.

Gov. Ned Lamont, who I will cast in the role of bully here, actually appeared before The Day's Editorial Board earlier this month and warned the city about interfering in the environmental permitting process.

"Look, they've got to get these environmental approvals. If people protest, if the mayor protests, and slows things up three to nine months, at that point (utilities) Ørsted and Eversource have a decision they've got to make. Is that a delay they are willing to take," the governor said.

There you have it. Bully Lamont says the mayor shouldn't protest environmental permits for a massive project that is going to remake the city's waterfront because it might upset the rich utilities' plans.

Wow. The governor tells the city to step back and not participate in a public process to consider the environmental effects of a massive project within city boundaries. Wow. The governor sides once again with the rich utilities and not the people of the poor city of New London, who won't see one dime of property tax revenue from the $200 million commercial project.

Instead of obediently lying down, Mayor Michael Passero suited up in what I like to think of as his superhero cape, the one he must keep hanging in City Hall, for fighting bullies.

Just two weeks after the governor publicly suggested the mayor butt out of a public hearing process established by law, the city filed paperwork to actively participate in the hearings as an interested party, an intervenor.

"Given the size and scope of the applicant's proposed activity and project, and given the fact that it is located wholly within the city's limits, upon best information and belief said application will have an enormous impact on the city's duties and privileges in that the city will be responsible for a plethora of city services to support the proposed activity and project," the city's lawyer wrote in a request for intervenor status filed Monday.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection lawyer who has been assigned the hearing, Brendan Schain, already has refused Connecticut Port Authority critic Kevin Blacker permission to participate as an intervenor.

Schain wrote in his decision denying Blacker intervenor status that he used expletives in his request and said bad things about the lawyers in the case. Those poor lawyers.

Honestly, the law sets the bar for allowing people to participate as intervenors incredibly low, essentially that the person has to care about the environment and justice.

I see the denial of the request by Blacker, who has always been polite and reasonable in speaking at port-related hearings and events, even in civil disobedience, as one more attempt in Lamont's Connecticut to stifle legitimate protest and civic participation.

I dare the DEEP hearing officer to deny the city the right to participate as an intervenor, while the mayor has his cape on anyway.

Meanwhile, the DEEP hearings are shaping up to be quite a show, with dozens of comments opposing the project already on file, complaints that raise all kinds of issues about filling in 7 acres of the harbor to turn aside longtime users of the port, from local fishermen to oceangoing ships that brought cargo into the region.

It's going to take a lot more bullying to make this pig of a port makeover fly.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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