Old Lyme first selectwoman tapped to head state port authority

Old Lyme — At a special meeting held Wednesday at Town Hall, Connecticut Port Authority board members elected new leadership to continue oversight of the port authority’s mission of supporting the state’s maritime economy after Chairman Scott Bates announced he would step down from his position, effective immediately.

Elected in a 13 to 1 vote, with one abstention, Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder, who has served as the board’s vice chair since the Port Authority was first formed in 2014, will replace Bates in a two-year term.

Also elected, to replace Reemsnyder as vice chair, is David Kooris, who has served as an ex-officio member of the board over the last year and also is deputy commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

Bates will serve out the remainder of his four-year term, slated to end June 2021, as a member of the board, thus leaving no vacancies.

Bates’ decision comes almost one month after Gov. Ned Lamont announced that port authority-led negotiations involving the state, pier operator Gateway and developer Bay State Wind established a long-term, private-public investment of $93 million to overhaul New London State Pier into an offshore wind hub with improved infrastructure and heavy-lift capability.

Bates, first appointed to the board by Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, has served as the board’s chair since the Port Authority's formation. He has since taken a leading role in not only the recent State Pier negotiations, which he described as “transformative” in an interview with The Day on Wednesday, but also has navigated the port authority through its initial startup years, working with the port authority board to further its mission and form the Small Harbor Improvement Projects, or SHIP, Program, which helps municipalities improve infrastructure or the management of their waterways.

Formed by the state in 2014, the Connecticut Port Authority is quasi-public agency tasked with the mission to grow Connecticut’s economy and create jobs by strategically investing, through revenues and state funding, in its three deepwater ports — New London, New Haven and Bridgeport — as well as small harbors throughout the state.

“In any organization’s life, it comes time to evolve to new challenges. And with the deal done in New London, we now have a more robust leadership team on the board level,” Bates said. “I know my talents, and I was right for a certain time as a leader. But the hallmark of real leadership is finding people that can carry on the mission beyond you.”

Bates did not specify when he made the decision to step down in his interview. Aside from his position with the Port Authority, Bates also serves full-time as deputy secretary of the state of Connecticut.

Considering that both Reemsnyder and Kooris have served side by side on the port authority’s four-person negotiating committee, which oversaw and managed the recent State Pier deal in New London, Bates also said he believes the two stand in a particularly strong position to take port authority leadership moving forward.

Speaking to Reemsnyder’s varied and diverse credentials, Bates said that as a first selectwoman, she will “understand” how to best work with municipal leaders across the state in furthering the port authority’s mission. Aside from that, he said she has demonstrated “successful” experience working and negotiating with “state-level folks,” specifically mentioning her efforts to protect Old Lyme as the Federal Railroad Administration considered running a high-speed rail bypass through the town in 2016 and 2017. She also served as the chairman of the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments from early 2016 to late 2018.

“That combination makes her the right person for the job,” Bates said. “She is tough when needed and brings people together whenever possible. That’s a great leader.”

What's ahead

Moving forward after the announcement of its State Pier negotiations, the port authority still needs to finalize “the precise language of the pier agreement,” Reemsnyder said Wednesday in an interview with The Day, as well as the permitting and design process needed to begin upcoming infrastructure improvements.

Those improvements are slated to begin by early 2020, with completion slated for early 2022, a CPA spokesperson said Wednesday.

With negotiations for the State Pier deal now complete, Reemsnyder said that as board chair, she’ll now be seeking to collaborate with the private companies that head the state’s two other deepwater ports in Bridgeport and New Haven to increase shipping activity and “promote economic development” in those ports, as well.

Reemsnyder also spoke of further supporting the port authority's SHIP Program. Reemsnyder said she would recuse herself from any votes regarding applications submitted from Old Lyme as part of that program.

“I really believe these are big shoes to fill, but I believe in our mission, I believe in the port authority, and I’ll do my best to be as good a leader (as Bates),” Reemsnyder said. “I will do whatever is needed in order for the port authority to succeed.”

Speaking about her role in Old Lyme, Reemsnyder said she does not believe her new position will be more time-consuming than her combined previous roles with the port authority. Besides serving as vice chair of the board and co-chair of the negotiating committee, Reemsnyder also has served as finance chair for the port authority.

Now as port authority board chair, though, Reemsnyder said she won’t be serving in those additional positions any longer, stating that another board member will be elected as finance chair.

“The advantage to our community is that I work with the professionals at the state level who now will have a connection to Old Lyme,” Reemsnyder said. “Those kinds of relationships to any first selectman are helpful when we need to get things done for this community.”

“And make no mistake," she said. "The priority (as first selectwoman) is this community.”

m.biekert@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the number of people who voted. An official incorrectly affirmed the earlier vote total. This version also corrects the name of the representative who appointed Scott Bates to the board.

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