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Connecticut Port Authority Chairman Kooris navigates the truth

Connecticut Port Authority Chairman David Kooris complained to lawmakers last week that The Day has refused to correct errors in columns I've written about the agency.

"Their inability and unwillingness to correct the record when errors are brought to their attention has unfortunately left the public with a significantly twisted understanding" of the agency, Kooris testified at a meeting of the legislature's Transportation Committee.

He didn't specifically name this newspaper but he referred to the "vast majority" of news about the port authority being conveyed in uncorrected columns that end with the "caveat" that they are opinions of the writer. That would be me.

I don't want to belabor the point, because I was much more alarmed by his attacks on people who I would call port authority victims, but I have to say that I can't recall Chairman Kooris ever making a single complaint about a factual error in a column or asking for a correction.

I suspect my editors might join me in taking umbrage at an allegation in a televised public hearing that we would ever fail to correct an error brought to our attention.

Of course it struck me, as the chairman's testimony continued, that however "twisted" a perception of the authority he believes I've created in the public's mind, his own characterizations seemed to weave painfully around the truth.

Indeed, Rep. Christine Conley of Groton politely referred to some of his testimony as "incorrect" when she read a quote from a bid request for hiring port authority lawyers that directly contradicted what Kooris earlier in the same hearing told lawmakers that the bid request said.

She went on to refer to the history of scandals at the agency and said: "I wonder if this is the correct way to manage the port?"

Kooris bristled in his testimony Friday about the use of words like scandal and corruption in regards to the port authority, as if that were all ancient history.

But of course the crazy level of corruption, like a frat house gone wild — no accounting controls, hiring family and friends, no-bid contracts and freewheeling lunches, dinners and parties on credit cards — was raging when the agency produced the contract for the management of State Pier in New London that is part of current plans to spend as much as $200 million or more to remake the port.

The contract to let the private port of New Haven run the state facility in New London, its competitor, went to a company, like others hired by the port authority, with ties to former port authority board Chairman Scott Bates, managed by the son of a former associate.

That contract is under review by the State Contracting Standards Board, which is investigating a range of complaints about the way the contract was awarded and its effects on business competition.

Kooris on Friday criticized two of the entities that have been harmed most directly by the port authority's turning of State Pier over to the competing port of New Haven.

One, the other bidder, Logistec, ran State Pier for 20 years and submitted a proposal, as specified in the bid request, for a dual-use facility for wind and regular cargo, but wasn't even given the courtesy of an interview with the former authority chairman.

"I'm not going to make disparaging comments about any individual company," Kooris testified last Friday about Logistec, suggesting he has disparaging things to say. That felt like an unfounded smear to me.

In fact, Canadian-based Logistec, which runs more than 30 ports in North America, including some now accommodating wind development, was growing the cargo volume at State Pier, even without state infrastructure investment, bringing in a peak of 400,000 metric tons of cargo with 33 ship calls in 2018.

Gateway of New Haven, which doesn't have anywhere near the port management experience, shut down the competing port as soon as it could and diverted ships to its own facility last year, sending the union longshoreman home. No permits have even been granted for construction work on the piers in New London and they seem a long way off as the port sits idle.

Logistec originally recruited DRVN Enterprises, which created a road salt business competing with one run by Gateway Terminals of New Haven, handling the product and selling directly to municipalities and trucking companies. Its competition lowered the cost of road salt in the state.

"It's a bit of a mischaracterization," Kooris said about DRVN being a competitor, suggesting that DRVN could have taken Gateway's offer to import its salt to New Haven like other salt companies and given over the distribution business it runs in New London to the New Haven operator.

Sorry Chairman Kooris, I think the mischaracterization is yours. DRVN is very much a Gateway competitor and being run out of business.

Kooris admitted Friday to "flagging" the potential appointment of the mayor of New London to the port authority board over concerns a city representative would have to recuse himself on matters related to the New London port.

But of course, New London businessman John Johnson, a port authority board member who owns industrial property in the immediate vicinity of State Pier, didn't recuse himself from the vote to spend tens of millions of state dollars at the pier site near his own property.

Denying the city a voice in a deal to benefit rich utilities but granting one to a private citizen that stands to benefit enormously from decisions about a property near his own, seems to me, to be the essence of corruption.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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