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    Friday, February 03, 2023

    OPINION: Still no answers on how much State Pier will cost

    Like the Office of State Ethics, I am going to take a pass on fact-finding the allegations by Connecticut Port Authority critic Kevin Blacker that agency Chairman David Kooris lied to the State of Connecticut Bond Commission last time he asked for more money for the price-spiraling State Pier project.

    The Office of State Ethics did respond at length this week to Blacker’s formal request for an opinion about Kooris’ alleged lies, and they sent copies to legislators, bond commission members included in the original filing.

    The short read of the opinion, was, oddly enough, that lying isn’t necessarily a violation of Connecticut ethics law. I know that seems worrisome, but it is because the law is aimed specifically at preventing the use of the public trust for personal financial gain, not just any ethical lapse.

    I, like Brian O’Dowd, ethics office general counsel wrote to Blacker, would not condone lying. And like O’Dowd, I can’t get to the bottom of Blacker’s specific allegations. I will take Kooris at his word that he told the truth about details of the state pier development contract.

    But I will say the bond commission members should be very wary next time Chairman Kooris comes before them _ and he says he is planning to ask them for more State Pier money _ given the circumstances of his last appearance.

    After all, though it may not have been a lie, Kooris said very emphatically that his last ask for $20 million, on a project that has soared from $93 million to the current, no-longer-reliable price of more than $250 million, would be his very last request to fund the project.

    Indeed, he even promised on the lives of his children that he wouldn’t come back for more. And yet here he comes.

    The most sensible thing I’ve heard lately from a lawmaker regarding the State Pier fiasco was from Sen. Cathy Osten who said “enough is enough” and it is time for new port authority management.

    I can’t understand why Gov. Ned Lamont has allowed this mess to continue so long with the same person in charge.

    Kooris most certainly did lie when he told the Connecticut Mirror that he couldn’t release a subpoena requested under Freedom of Information laws because the attorney general told him not to.

    The attorney general said he gave no such advice.

    That’s obstructing public access to information about one of multiple regulatory and criminal investigations of events that occurred at the port authority while led by Kooris.

    Aren’t multiple criminal investigations good reason to change management?

    Even more worrisome is the lack of public accounting for a project under such criminal scrutiny. Even now, Chairman Kooris will only say it’s going to cost more but not how much more. Are we talking many millions or many tens of millions more?

    The January meeting of the port authority board was canceled so that there would be no public discussion of the latest setbacks and cost spirals. The utilities have not yet signed a lease for the use of the new facility.

    Kooris now says the end of the project is in sight. But how can we believe that given that we don’t have any idea how much it is finally going to cost? And they’ve shut down public discussion.

    Who accepts this kind of mismanagement? What will the bond commission members say to Kooris next time, since making him promise on the lives of his children was not enough last time to get an answer they could believe in.

    Sen Osten is right. Enough is enough.

    I know Gov. Lamont likes to think of himself as a smart, savvy businessman, but every day this goes on proves what a preposterous notion that is.

    This is the opinion of David Collins

    d.collins@theday.com

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