State looking for an ambitious plan to expand State Pier
New London — The future of New London's deepwater port will depend heavily on who the Connecticut Port Authority chooses to run the State Pier facility at the opening of the Thames River, where steady shipments of steel, lumber and salt have been coming in, and which has the potential to be used by the burgeoning offshore wind industry.
The port authority, created in 2014 to promote the state's maritime economy, including its deepwater ports in Bridgeport, New Haven and New London, has issued a request for proposals for a port operator for State Pier. It's challenging respondents to think "ambitiously" about a long-term plan for the property.
Scott Bates, chairman of the port authority's board, described State Pier as an "underutilized asset" and said that the port authority is seeking to get the "best and highest use" out of the facility. The port authority oversees operations of the state-owned facility, which covers 30 acres with two piers, a deep-water channel and on-dock rail.
"The facility can be redesigned to accommodate a wide range of opportunities, including the staging of wind turbine components and the introduction of new commodities like conventional cargo," the request for proposals says. The pier, according to the request, also could be used for moving goods shorter distances on smaller vessels along the coast to other regional ports and hubs, such as New York/New Jersey, Baltimore and Norfolk, as the price of moving freight via truck increases.
Logistec has run pier operations for the last two decades, with its current operating lease ending Jan. 31, 2019. The company is among those bidding to be port operator. The port authority, which has hired the investment banking and consultancy firm Seabury Maritime to handle the request for proposals process, is not releasing the names of any of the respondents, nor the number of companies that have expressed interest.
"There's strong interest, and we're optimistic because we see that there are several companies that realize the value and potential of State Pier," Bates said.
Five companies, a mix of terminal operators and wind companies, responded to a request for qualifications issued before the request for proposals.
Companies had until June 22 to express interest in running the pier operations, and must submit their proposals by Aug. 10. An operator will be selected in the fall.
The request for proposals points to the strategic location of State Pier with "easy access to the ocean, main East Coast highway systems, the warehouse and distribution facilities of the Boston and New Jersey area, and the cities of Boston, New London and New York."
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in May announced a $15 million investment at State Pier to be used for infrastructure improvements and to help ready the pier for future use by the emerging wind energy market.
The port authority has its own plans for how the facility can be upgraded, such as the demolition of unnecessary structures to increase laydown space and construction of a heavy lift pad, but wants to give the winner of the request for proposals a say in how the money is used. It also expects the port operator to make its own investment in the facility to leverage the $15 million from the state.
"This is a great investment in State Pier that can help attract partners who are serious about a long-term plan for State Pier," Bates said. "We're looking forward to working with the winner of the RFP process to determine how best to use those resources."
Unloadings up at pier
Earlier this month, state regulators tapped Block Island Wind Farm developer Deepwater Wind to bring offshore wind power to Connecticut.
State officials have said State Pier could accommodate the assembly of wind turbines and their bases while providing the space for staging the extremely large components for delivery to offshore locations. Deepwater pledged to invest $15 million to the port authority to help ready State Pier for staging and construction.
This all comes at a time of increased activity at New London's port, which experienced a lull for several years after the recession.
So far this year, Logistec has handled 17 vessels, carrying about 265,000 metric tons of cargo, according to Frank Vannelli, senior vice president for commercial and business development at Logistec. Vannelli predicts that, by year's end, the company will have handled 30 vessels and more than 400,000 metric tons of cargo, a record year for cargo shipments. In 2009, the pier handled less than 40,000 metric tons of cargo.