Finally, outrage at Gov. Lamont's $235 million pier boondoggle
I was encouraged to see that Gov. Ned Lamont's out-of-control spending spree on a remake of State Pier for utilities Eversource and Ørsted has finally brought a state lawmaker to his feet to complain.
Indeed, the usually reserved state Sen. Paul Formica of East Lyme let it rip at a Tuesday meeting of the board of the Connecticut Port Authority when criticizing the escalating estimated costs of the State Pier wind assembly port, which have now shot up from $93 million to $235 million.
The governor's State Pier team likes to say the utilities are contributing $70 million to the project, but that includes $20 million in estimated rent for 10 years. The state has agreed to pay all of the project costs above $50 million, so the escalating price for taxpayers bearing much of the costs of a facility designed for the rich, profit-guaranteed utilities is now around $185 million, with no guarantees it won't grow more.
"I can't tell you how offended I am at the total mismanagement of the project," Formica said during the board meeting.
"You should all resign if you can't get this right," he said.
And this is a senator who has been an advocate for the project from the start.
Kosta Diamantis, deputy secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management, who is overseeing the project, raised his voice later in the meeting in addressing Formica's comments and defended the escalating price.
Diamantis insisted that there are no cost "overruns" and that earlier estimates were done when the design was in its early stages.
"It is what it is," he said about the new estimates, which he said now reflect completed design. It still has to go to bid and could go up more.
Formica said no one should have made an estimate until they were confident of the numbers. "This is completely unacceptable. We should have known the numbers going in," he said.
Actually, if you were at the Hartford news conference in which Lamont announced what was then a $157 million version of the project, as I was, you would have been struck by how confidently they defended the estimate.
Lamont said he normally would not have accepted responsibility for escalating costs but was certain of the estimated cost because the state would have final say over the design.
"They've gone over the numbers tight. We've got a big contingency built in," the governor promised.
Some 14 months later, it's already like $70 million more than those "tight" numbers. Diamantis also took to the microphone at the news conference that day in February 2020 and suggested in front of the television cameras — again in a loud, defensive voice — that it would be crazy to suggest the numbers would go up.
"The budget estimates we are creating now have been done with our team from (Department of Administrative Services)," he said. "I am very familiar with this particular project and it's $157 million," a bullish Diamantis said confidently into the microphone. "There are not overruns in this project and there won't be. This is a $157 million project."
Some 14 months later, it is, in his words, what it is: $235 million.
I greatly appreciate Sen. Formica's outrage at the way people appear to have been deceived. I am also impressed that a crack has opened on the port authority board, with one board member complaining about the lack of contribution from the utilities to make up for the rising cost.
But I disagree about the project's purpose and remain convinced that, aside from all the other issues related to closing New London's port to conventional cargo, that spending $185 million of public money for a project that at best might create 400 jobs is absurd.
The other great myth that the governor likes to promote is that rebuilding State Pier is necessary for the state to realize a wind-driven electric future. This is also absurd.
The utilities have agreed to sell Connecticut ratepayers a lot of electricity from offshore wind, priced above market rates, whether or not State Pier is rebuilt.
There are other ports, maybe developed at much less expense, all over the East Coast.
There's no reason Connecticut taxpayers have to be on the hook for Gov. Lamont's boondoggle, a giant and escalating subsidy for rich utilities that don't need it.
This is the opinion of David Collins.